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UCT to loan (some) students laptops during Covid-19 lockdown

The University of Cape Town (UCT) is trying to assist its students with online learning during the Covid-19 pandemic and is on a drive to determine their specific requirements.

This comes after higher-education institutions, including UCT, have had to ask students to vacate residences and return home as the country battles with the coronavirus. 

Most universities have encouraged their students to use e-learning during this time so that they do not lose out on the academic programme. The reality for many poor and working-class students is that they will struggle with online learning because of high data costs and not having ready access to WiFi. Many students have taken to social media to remind authorities, including heads of institutions, of this fact. 

In a statement on Wednesday, the university said it has undertaken a survey to ask students, among other issues, if they have access to WiFi and the internet; whether they can access a quiet place for dedicated study or research; and the hours the student expects to be able to study or conduct research. 

The institution has also announced that it will loan laptops to its South African undergraduate and postgraduate students whose studies are funded through financial aid or are eligible for financial aid. The students will be expected to return the laptops at the end of this academic year. 

“Due to both cost and availability, UCT cannot distribute laptops to all students who do not have devices (including those who had them but lost them through theft or an accident). The overarching criteria for allocating laptops is financial need,” UCT said in the statement. 

Over the weekend, UCT’s newly appointed chancellor, Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepe, announced that the Motsepe Foundation had donated R5-million to the university to assist with its programmes during the time of the crisis. 

“I watched with sadness a student from a rural community interviewed on TV mention that she relied on computers at the university library to do her work as she doesn’t have a laptop. Now that the university was closed, she was expected to do her work online, which was just not possible,” said Moloi-Motsepe at a press briefing.

She said these were some of the challenges that prompted the foundation to donate to the institution to assist staff and students and UCT’s coronavirus crisis management. 

Last week, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande said he was in talks with Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, about how to deal with access to data for online learning. 

He also said his department had asked all universities to complete a survey of their IT capabilities for offering online learning. The higher education department and the Tertiary Education and Research Network of South Africa had started to analyse the survey results to identify institutions that require assistance to enhance their capability, said Nzimande. 

Meanwhile, the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) announced in a statement on Wednesday that one of its members had died from Covid-19. 

Also on Wednesday, the department of basic education announced that a teacher from the same school had also tested positive, as had a 14-year-old learner who is related to one of the teachers.

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Bongekile Macupe
Bongekile Macupe is an education reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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