Durban - For Pongola-born final year medical school student, Lindokuhle Ntshangase, graduating as a medical doctor has been a lifelong dream. But with the 21-day lockdown that was imposed a week ago, those dreams may have to be put on ice - for now.
Ntshangase said whilst the lockdown was essential to control the spread of the virus, the uncertainty that exists is alarming.
"I went to Dingukwazi High School, which is a quintile 3 school. The school did not have a proper laboratory or enough books for everyone amongst other challenges, so learning was very difficult. However, I was determined to make my parents proud. I was delighted when I got my matric results to see that I had achieved six distinctions. It was a surreal moment. It also meant I could apply to study medicine, a long held dream," he said.
Ntshangase lost his father in 2014 to a terminal illness and it was a very difficult time in his life.
"I had wished for him to see the day I got admitted to medical school. He encouraged me to work hard so that I can be the first doctor in the family. Now, I’m uncertain as to whether I will in fact complete my degree this year," he said.
Like many others in the country, Ntshangase’s medical curriculum consists of bedside teaching in hospitals. Despite academic material having being uploaded onto online platforms, bedside teaching cannot be delivered without the practical experience. Compounding his studies is the lack of sufficient data and when data is available the reception is very poor in a rural area.
Ntshangase said the world was facing a pandemic that has claimed a lot of lives.
"I would like to commend the South African government for the response that they have taken to address the pandemic. The 21- day lockdown is necessary to flatten the curve, and everyone should comply with the restrictions provided. However, the lockdown has hugely affected the academic calendar, especially for the clinical medicine students. Our learning is at the bedside. There is no way that you can teach skills from reading, it needs to be practical," Ntshangase said.
At UKZN, academics are working diligently to upload all material onto online platforms. Professor Nana Poku, vice-chancellor and principal of UKZN sent out a message to the UKZN community pledging its commitment to ensure the continuation of teaching and learning during the lockdown.
"This is an anxious and uncertain time for everyone - for our nearest and dearest, but also for the welfare of our students and the continuance of our work - and we are immensely proud of the hard, creative effort that our Deans have devoted to making online delivery of the university’s course materials possible. Transferring our teaching content onto virtual platforms - in common with our sister Universities in South Africa and elsewhere - is a matter of urgency. Indeed, it would be managerial negligence to the extreme if we fail to act prudently, timeously and appropriately," he said.
For Ntshangase and others in his class, the uncertainty in these challenging times continues. They are left pondering whether it would be best to leave the safety of their homes and return to the clinical settings to tackle the pandemic head on or remain at home and try to learn clinical skills through online platforms.