SANDILE Nkabinde, a first-year economics student at the University of Pretoria, prepares for his first online class. A group of academics and students believe that a different curriculum should be followed during the Covid-19 lockdown to ensure poor students are not left behind.      Sakhile Ndlazi
SANDILE Nkabinde, a first-year economics student at the University of Pretoria, prepares for his first online class. A group of academics and students believe that a different curriculum should be followed during the Covid-19 lockdown to ensure poor students are not left behind. Sakhile Ndlazi

Academics, students say poor students without resources will be left behind

By Lyse Comins Time of article published May 12, 2020

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Durban - A group representing academics and students at universities across the country have called for an alternative curriculum and assessments during the Covid-19 lockdown, saying many poor students are being left behind because they do not have access to online learning.

The group has formulated a proposed plan entitled a  “Social Pedagogy Alternative in the Time of Pandemic” to ensure that students who liv e in township and rural areas without access to reliable internet, data and laptops do not lose the academic year as privileged students forge ahead with the curriculum albeit online. The campaign is supported by students and concerned academics at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, UCT and Wits University.

Spokesperson for the group, UKZN academic Fikile Vilakazi, said the group was “very concerned about the fact that our communities are not ready to be able to facilitate online learning in ways that include all students equally”.

“Online learning is a wonderful learning opportunity because we’re living in an industrial revolution and it’s exciting and fun, but the problem is that because of the conditions on the ground, it can only be done for a few.

“The majority of students and academic people live in marginalised communities where they can’t pick up (internet) signals and many have problems accessing electricity, so the government needs to engage with Eskom,” she said.

Not all students had access to data and laptops, while library books and hard copies of learning material could not be accessed during the lockdown, she said.

Vilakazi said the campaign had received 1000 signatures of support from students and academics.

The group said in a statement outlining its proposal that its contextual analysis had showed “the current unilateral implementation of online teaching and learning by education institutions would result in an academic disaster and will exacerbate the Covid-19 humanitarian disaster”.

“Neither teaching staff nor students possess the means to make this shift right now. Going online immediately will simply widen existing inequalities and make meaningful learning impossible for the vast majority of students,” the group said.

“We propose a different approach: social pedagogy. This approach is consultative, inclusive,and sensitive to the contexts of students, teachers and their communities.

“It works toward a mutually supportive framework that will carry our pedagogic work through the current crisis, into a period of just recovery, and a more equitable future.”

Vilakazi said the proposal was to allow students to work in their local communities during the lockdown - such as observing trends and caring for the needy - and to submit a portfolio of evidence for marking at the end of the academic year.

“There is space to let both systems run together and to let the system happen in such a way that it’s equitable,” Vilakazi said.

She added that academics anticipated only returning to campus in January.

UKZN student Thobani Zikalala said students supported the proposal because online learning could not be applied equally.

“The problem is you are dealing with a university which has not made sure every student has their own gadgets.

“Some students depend on the university computers to access the internet and do research and assignments,” he said.

He said even if students had smartphones, these were not conducive for learning, and internet connectivity and data was a problem.

“Students chose to go to a contact university for a reason. Online learning does not cut it for me, when, in fact, it is distance learning. Students would have chosen to go to Unisa if they wanted to,” he said.

UKZN spokesperson Normah Zondo said the university had not received the proposal, but that it was finalising its plans for the development and implementation of “effective multi-modal remote learning systems (digital, analogue and physical delivery of learning materials) to provide a reasonable level of academic support to all our students to resume the academic programme”.

Zondo said the “unprecedented emergency” meant that the university had to “use all available tools to reach our students in an effort to ensure that no student is left behind”.

“We are at an advanced stage in our preparations to roll out online learning. In view of the fact that there is no tried and tested method to deal with our current crisis, the university has engaged directly with our student population in an effort to gauge their teaching and learning needs and to find solutions to their challenges,” Zondo said.

She said training sessions were being conducted to enable academics to use online teaching methods to deliver content.

“The reality is that not all our students have readily available access to the internet.

“In view of the current level 4 lockdown, our teaching and learning task team is urgently finalising alternative solutions so that all of our students have an opportunity to learn,” Zondo said.

The Mercury

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