This is how SA varsities are implementing online teaching amid Covid-19 lockdown

These are the measures that some of SA's universities have taken to migrate learning online amid the Covid-19 outbreak and national lockdown. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

These are the measures that some of SA's universities have taken to migrate learning online amid the Covid-19 outbreak and national lockdown. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Apr 20, 2020


Cape Town - These are the measures that some of SA's universities have taken to migrate learning online amid the Covid-19 outbreak and national lockdown.

University of Cape Town

The second term started on 20 April with an orientation week lasting until 25 April. Classes will start online on 28 April. 

The university says that while it is aiming to complete the 2020 academic calendar as close as possible to the usual year, it is taking into account the possibility of unforeseen further delays.

The Senate Executive Committee (SEC) approved a calendar that assumes the need for remote teaching throughout the second and third terms, with a return to contact teaching on campus in the fourth term.

The current proposed calendar makes allowances for a summer term that will run into 2021, pushing the beginning of the new academic year to March 2021.

In preparing both the framework and the calendar, UCT says there has been particular focus on the needs of its most vulnerable students. 

"UCT understands that each individual student’s use of time and space is determined by the class needs, so from the very beginning there was a focus on how to provide an equitable learning experience to all students. Particular care was taken to prevent the remote teaching experience from reinforcing or increasing existing inequalities."

The university has put in place several measures to support students during this period.

As part of the preparations, the university conducted a student access survey. Of the 90.4% who had completed the survey by 15 April, 89.5% has access to a laptop/desktop, while 1.3% had no device. UCT has arranged for door-to-door delivery of laptops to eligible students.

A further 91.4% had internet access. The university is investigating how it can further support the 8.6% students without internet access, in addition to other measures already put in place, such as an agreement with Cell C and Telkom to zero-rate access to certain UCT websites.

UCT is also considering further proposals to assist students. One possible proposal, which it says is still under development, is to deliver flash disks and printed materials to students.

The university said it is aware that even with all these plans to help students, there are some who will not be able to study successfully until they return to campus. It said it was making provision for students to catch up with their studies through blended learning (which combines online lectures and face-to-face tutorials) once the university is able to reopen.

In developing the framework for remote learning and the new calendar, UCT says it has been mindful of activities that cannot easily take place through remote teaching, like laboratory and field work, and public service, etc. The relevant departments and courses will prepare contingency plans on how best to deal with these outstanding work components. The new academic calendar builds in time for this purpose.

There are also entire courses that cannot be taught remotely, such as dance, music, fine art, theatre and languages. Special plans for these courses have been made in the new calendar to accommodate their needs for contact teaching once the university is able to return to on-campus operations.

University of the Western Cape

UWC says it has devised a "comprehensive plan" to ensure that students are permitted to complete the 2020 academic year. This is notwithstanding the fact that the Covid-19 pandemic remains unpredictable, and the situation locally and abroad remains extremely fluid.

Term 2 and the rest of this semester will commence with flexible learning and teaching from 20th April 2020, Acting Rector and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Vivienne Lawack said, "bearing in mind that the University is keenly aware of the limitations some of our students face in terms of equipment and data". 

The University’s Executive Management is currently discussing a contingency plan in this regard which will be communicated with all stakeholders once there is confirmation.

"I want to emphasise that no student will be left behind, and our plan includes a catch-up phase for students who have no resources at all during this period of lockdown," Lawack said.

"In addition, all students will be permitted to complete assessments, and no student will be excluded in the 2020 academic year.

The university says disparities among their students’ socio-economic backgrounds are acknowledged. "Efforts will be as inclusive as possible, with various ways of ensuring that the different categories of students, including students with disabilities, are catered for. The use of print media, PowerPoint presentations; flash drives, etc. will be explored.

"A flexible learning and teaching approach which includes online platforms, but is not restricted to these, will be adopted."

Read more here:

Stellenbosch University

The university said that they have started with e-learning today on the University’s learning and teaching platform, SUNLearn.

SU managed to procure 1 500 laptops that will be made available to socio-economically disadvantaged students who have no connectivity to SU’s online learning resources. According to this offer, the price of the laptop will be loaded onto the student’s account and reversed when the student returns the laptop at the end of the academic year. 

More information on online learning support; zero-rated data; the adjusted 2020 University Almanac; class, test and examination timetables; and, readmission to the University in 2021, amongst others is available here:

University of Johannesburg

UJ also started the second term of the first semester online today .

"Students have been informed that all teaching and learning for the term will happen online through developed mobile applications for anytime, anywhere access to resources and lectures.

"We understand that devices, data and connectivity are important for successful learning online. The majority of our students have a device that can be used for learning purposes and the University is exploring possibilities of assisting some NSFAS and Missing Middle students with acquiring data and devices," the university said.

UJ says it has made 4000 laptops available to distribute to qualifying NSFAS and Missing Middle students and invested "significant financial resources" to secure 30GB of data per student per month.

UJ says it was continuing to work closely with telecommunications providers with the view to provide more data solutions to students, so that they may perform their studies efficiently. The institution said they realise that some of students operate in environmental conditions that are not conducive to learning, and therefor the next two weeks, there will be no formal assessments or assignments. 

Students will have the opportunity to catch up on assessments. The university said they will continue to engage with students as it rolls out the online teaching and learning.

UJ’s academic programme has been amended accordingly as follows:

- The academic programme for the second term to commence on 20 April 2020, with online teaching and learning.


The first semester will end on 26 June 2020 and the mid-year recess is planned for two weeks (27 June to 12 July).


First semester supplementary assessments have been moved one week later to 13 to 16 July.


The second semester will start on 20 July.


After the first semester, depending on government, a phase in approach will be implemented.

University of Witswatersrand

Wits instituted an emergency remote teaching and learning programme as one measure to help minimise the time lost in the academic project.

The almanac has been revised but is dependent on how the crisis unfolds in the months ahead. 

"To be clear, the university is not transitioning to a permanent online modality for all courses, nor are we becoming a correspondence institution. We are instituting an emergency remote teaching and learning programme as one measure that will help us to minimise the time lost in the academic project," they said.

Wits said that multiple surveys across the institution had revealed that between 10% and 15% of students did not have access to appropriate computing devices, adequate access to data or conducive learning environments. 

"To this end, we are putting in place the following measures to ensure that the majority of students are able to learn remotely:

"Wits has established a Mobile Computing Bank (MCB) which will enable qualifying students who do not have access to appropriate mobile learning devices to loan basic devices from the MCB. These basic computing devices will be suitable for educational purposes and will be pre-loaded with the required learning resources before being delivered via the South African Post Office to students who absolutely need them. The cost of the device will be added to students’ fee accounts and will be reversed if the device is returned in good order at the end of the 2020 academic year. The students most in need will be prioritised when devices are allocated."

The University said it had finalised an agreement with four telecommunications service providers: Telkom, MTN, Vodacom and Cell C to zero-rate Wits’ library and learning management sites. 

Read more here:

University of KwaZulu-Natal

The UKZN Teaching and Learning Office, in conjunction with other divisions, have developed a repository of resources to support academics in engaging with online teaching. This portal will serve as the information hub to accommodate an evolving online tool kit and associated resources: [email protected]

The UKZN Teach Online Strategy (UTOS) is designed to assist academics adopt a technology enhanced teaching and learning culture, now and for the future. The strategy affirms and aligns with conventional pedagogic practices, while advancing more innovative and creative modes, which includes:

- Understand effective digital pedagogies


Lecture recording/capture 


Online lecture distribution 


Online assessments 


Online lecturer and student engagement 


Online training and teaching resources


Webinar recordings and articles

University of the Free State

An Online Transition and Orientation period will start on 20 April and continue until 30 April 2020. 

Prof Francis Petersen, Rector and Vice-Chancellor, said the university management was deeply aware that some students may struggle to connect, and that students and staff need to learn and teach in a new way. “The Online Transition and Orientation period will allow both staff and students to get acquainted with a new online learning environment; enable both staff and students to re-establish a new way of communication, relationships, and interaction to optimise learning and teaching; and provide the university with an opportunity to assess challenges in the move to online teaching, including determining the level of connectivity, access to devices and other challenges experienced by students, and to use this period to resolve these challenges,” he says. 

The majority of the first-semester modules will be completed online, with continuous assessment; this means that all assignments will be used to assess learning, with no examinations. 

Some modules have laboratory-based, studio-based, clinical-based, or community-engagement requirements that will be re-organised. A specific plan regarding any formal community engagements, which includes aspects of clinical training, teaching practice, and work-integrated learning, will be prepared by the respective faculties. 

The examination will take place from 3 to 22 August 2020 through continuous online assessment, and the third quarter will commence on 31 August 2020 with a blend of online and face-to-face classes.

Materials to help students get ready for the start of the online academic activities have been provided through the university’s Keep Calm, #UFSLearnOn campaign. The university is working with academic staff through its Keep Calm, #UFSTeachOn campaign to repackage learning materials, while cognisant that students will not have regular access to the internet and in some instances no access to appropriate devices. 

Students are also supported by the Department of Student Counselling and Development through its #UFSWellnessWarriors campaign, aimed at encouraging them to look after their health and wellbeing.

“Moreover, the university – in collaboration with Universities South Africa – is continuously working on the zero-rating of websites. It has been agreed that some sites will be zero-rated in the short term and that students will be provided with a 10-GB, 30-day data bundle. We are grateful for this agreement, as it will assist students to commence their online academic activities on 20 April 2020,” he says.

The Teaching and Learning Management Group has been tasked with developing different models to deliver teaching and learning in order to ensure the continuation of the academic programme in 2020.

Cape Argus

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