By Chulumanco- Mihlali Nkasela
The whole country has been considering the idea of online learning in order to salvage the academic year of 2020. We were hit by a spectre of a virus that was soon declared a world wide pandemic by the World Health Organisation. Like everything else the Higher Education sector was rocked at all fronts by this.
The forcible lockdowns of countries saw to, amongst other things educational institutions and facilities likes universities and colleges closed. And so it was only natural for the Minister of Higher Education to want to keep universities closed and keep students away from each other. This, at face value seems like the most logical action and could be arguable that students are safer when not at university residences in big numbers.
What we seem to forget however is that students going back to residences would alleviate a lot of the pressure that is on institutions in terms of online learning. Whilst I reject online learning entirely, I only just wish to narrate how returning back to res would at least give us a best case scenario when it comes to online learning.
One, at a university residence you have a quiet space and time to study without any disturbances like chores, taking care of your younger siblings and everything else that disadvantages us when we study at home. Secondly, at a university residence you are not confronted with network issues that make it difficult and impossible to access course content. At res you are guaranteed a steady network connection and strong network coverage, and so this would mean that then the devices that the DHET promises to provide students with are put to good use. Lastly, but not in the greater scope of things, being at res allows you to have a healthy studying environment, where as the student you can study with minimal stress and contact with other people, unless using a communal space which can be easily maintained and controlled.
Speaking broadly and with much more complex lenses, being at res will offer students basic services that they require in order to learn in a conducive manner and environment. It offers students electricity, water, a space they can safe isolate in and not be constantly stressing about contracting Covid-19 whilst having to focus on their studies.
However, like I had mentioned above that I am still against online learning in its entirety because it doesn’t matter in what way it is executed, there are still students that will be left behind. In this particular case I want to focus on Technikon students or rather students in universities of Technology.
The ethos of these universities is deeply rooted in their theory being incorporated with practical work and training, so whilst online learning and exhausting all options of learning management systems may work for “traditional” universities, it is not even an option for universities of technology. It is impossible for the theory work to move forward without the practical aspect, the training aspect does however have a versatility of being able to be factored in towards the end of modules.
The scary part here is the greater consequences that the implementation of e-Learning may have for students in universities of technology. The teaching and training that is offered by these institutions is not only accredited by the DHET but it is accredited by different professions councils and SETAs. This means that universities of technology then can’t chop and change the education programme as they wish to suite every circumstance they encounter, and so this would mean that diplomas and degrees may lose accreditation. This would then mean that saving the academic year was in vain. So in essence, e-Learning for students in universities of technology will be as useless as it would have been if e-Learning had not started at all.
The practical aspect of course content requires equipment and specialised technology which is locked in our campuses. Both universities and the government cannot afford to buy e.g. each Civil Engineering student a surveying tripod and a theodolite or each Biomedical Sciences student a microscope, different types of DNA analyzers, Incubators and the list goes on. In any case, most of these pieces of machinery can only be used in an accredited laboratory. This leaves students hanging with failure to connect different aspects of their work to each other, especially in subjects where the practical aspect of work is the bridge that connects the aspects of theory, which is every subject and module in a university of technology.
Online learning goes against the ethos of a university of technology and institutions like the Cape Peninsula University of Technology who are willing to put the qualifications of students at risk merely suffer from stupid pressure of seeing “traditional” universities take the route of online learning. This goes to prove how these institutions always have their main stakeholders, which are students on the back burner and don’t care how they make do in situations that were not necessary to begin with. E-Learning deserves to be rejected in its entirety and the item on the agenda is one, and it is not to have any student left behind. It is not the saving of the academic year that we are against but the exclusionary manner it is done in.
As we continue to fight against e-Learning, it proves to be more defective by the day, it can never be a strategy to salvage the academic year in a South Africa that has huge economic divides and many barely surviving. This pandemic has gone to not only prove the defects of the capitalist system and the war it has waged against the black poor working class, but it has had everyone flirting with communist and socialist policies. In however way we look at it, there is no way to salvage the academic year other than patience, because any other way will leave some students behind as it has been proven with every method that the DHET has brought forth so far.
Economic Freedom, In our lifetime!
Written by Chulu