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How South African universities are gearing up for online learning

As universities across the country prepare for the worst lockdown scenarios, topping the list of solutions is the implementation of remote online learning, should the lockdown be extended beyond April. File Picture

As universities across the country prepare for the worst lockdown scenarios, topping the list of solutions is the implementation of remote online learning, should the lockdown be extended beyond April. File Picture

Published Apr 22, 2020

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Durban - As universities across the country prepare for the worst lockdown scenarios, topping the list of solutions is the implementation of remote online learning, should the lockdown be extended beyond April.

However, some students say they are not ready for online learning.

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Nokuhlengwa Skhakhane, 23, a third-year quantity surveying student at the Mangosuthu University of Technology (MUT), would have been in the last semester of her studies and would have started her in-service training at the beginning of July, but this may no longer come to pass after the university closed due to the lockdown.

Instead, she packed her bags and headed home to Gingindlovu, near Eshowe.

The proposal for tertiary institutions to implement E-learning programmes as a solution during the lockdown would not work for her since she does not own a computer or laptop and does not have access to the internet.

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Being provided with online resources would not help either, as the network coverage in the rural Emabhokweni village was a problem.

Skhakhane and her younger sister, Nozipho Zungu, a first-year student also at MUT, are both beneficiaries of the National Students Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).

“We heard on the news that, should the lockdown be extended, some of the solutions include online learning. This disturbed my sister and I because all we have been praying for is an opportunity to go back to campus, as this is where we could have access to the internet,” she said.

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Esther Joubert, a senior specialist in Curriculum Development and Assessment in the Teaching and Learning Development Centre (TLDC) at MUT, said there was now a sharp focus on the implementation of online learning to ensure academic continuity and to save the academic year.

“Although one can see the urgent reason for business continuity, such training is actually required for business as usual,” she said.

Joubert said the TLDC was in the process of taking stock of the number of courses that had been activated on the online teaching and learning technology, Blackboard.

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She said online teaching was the university’s way of ensuring that academic work continued during the lockdown.

“While the drive towards teaching with technology has been a recent trend in higher education globally, the temporary closure of universities across South Africa has necessitated that universities exploit this strategy with a real sense of urgency,” said Joubert.

University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) marketing executive director Norma Zondo said the university had planned for multiple scenarios in response to the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown regulations.

All the scenarios considered were guided by the need to act against the possibility of losing a portion of the academic year, or extending the academic year beyond December 2020. However, there was no concrete plan just yet.

She said the university had extended an invitation to students, through a competition, to submit creative and innovative ideas to deliver online lectures to all students.

“UKZN is also conducting a survey to ascertain the needs of our students, like the number of students in need of data and laptops. Management will strategise and set a date for commencement of online learning, once this survey is complete,” said Zondo.

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