By Sibongile Ralana
As the early days of online learning roll out across various tertiary institutions — but students highlight internet access, anxiety and inconsiderate lecturers as stumbling blocks to their progress.
“Right now, I don’t think anyone from any background is willing to drop out of university. We came with a purpose to these institutions. Returning to residences will help many of us,” a first-year student.
He — like many others — is worried about his academics after writing an online test recently where he didn’t do well. He lost concentration because he was taking the test in a noisy environment.
Since April, a number of higher learning institutions undertook online learning. Later that month, Minister of Higher Education Blade Nzimande announced campus-based learning at tertiary institutions — including universities and TVET colleges — would not proceed during the level 4 lockdown period. The only exception to this decision is the return of final year medical students under strict conditions.
Some students have been able to make the adjustment to online learning, while for others, the continuation of the academic year from home has been an overwhelming task.
A University of Johannesburg student says that online learning has not been working for her because her living conditions aren’t learning-friendly and it’s taking an emotional toll on her. She lives in a village just outside Polokwane in Limpopo where the internet connection is inconsistent.
But it’s not just internet access that makes it harder.
Meanwhile, an international student at the Nelson Mandela University says despite the distress caused by virtual learning, the academic year should continue through online learning. “I understand that they want to finish the semester, but they should be considerate. I don’t think it should be cancelled because it’s going to affect a lot of things like international [students] who have to renew [their] visa, plus the extra cost that may be incurred. Instead, a plan could be made which would favour everyone equally.”
Additionally, some students feel lecturers aren’t doing enough to make all students have a fair chance at completing the academic year through online learning. According to the University of Pretoria student, his lecturers expected them to work through the lockdown despite some students — such as himself — not having the resources because they relied on campus-based computer labs. He worries that he will fail a module because lecturers are unwilling to significantly adjust to the new conditions.
“They just give us minor extensions as if they are doing us a favour. Most of their students already had the laptops, study desks, rooms in [certain] cases, internet access at home so they are able to continue with work during the lockdown,” he explains.
President of the University of Cape Town (UCT) Student Representative Council (SRC), Akha Tutu says that students are finding online learning difficult, particularly those who have been defined as vulnerable students, because of their socio-economic circumstances. These students, despite having received assistance from their university with regards to laptops and data, they’re struggling with not having time or space to study. “I must highlight though, as much as there are students trying, it’s very difficult for a lot of students for those reasons I’ve just given you, so we are worried,” Tutu says.
The higher education department, tertiary institutions and the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) have made a concerted effort by to make online learning possible by providing some students with data and laptops. Only time will tell whether these efforts are enough to ensure that “no student will be left behind”.
The views expressed here are the author’s personal opinion and do necessarily reflect the editorial policy of The Daily Vox.
Sibongile Ralana is an LLB graduate of the University of Cape Town (UCT). She is a published poet and is passionate about justice.