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Covid-19 lockdown pushes Wits University to offer online learning

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It is not yet clear when schools or universities will reopen after President Cyril Ramaphosa’s extension of the lockdown, and the University of the Witwatersrand has said that it will move to remote online teaching and learning as of Monday April 20. The university announced its plans for online learning in a statement on Tuesday

The university said it was aware that not all its students have access to resources that would enable them to access online learning while at home during the lockdown. The institution said its surveys had revealed that 10% to 15% of its students do not have access to computing devices, data or a conducive learning environment. 

To address these concerns, Wits said it had established a mobile computing bank, from which students can borrow devices. 

“These basic computing devices will be suitable for educational purposes and will be preloaded 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,” Wits said in the statement. 

It also said that it had partnered with the four telecommunications service providers to zero-rate the university’s library and learning management sites. 

Wits vice-chancellor Professor Adam Habib said the pandemic is calling for new ways of teaching and learning. “While the faculties will ensure that the requisite support is in place, our students will have to make an extraordinary effort to adapt to remote online learning, particularly over the next few months,” said Habib. 

The university said in its statement that additional support will be provided to students, particularly those who might have difficulties transitioning to online learning, when contact classes resume. 

“It may be necessary for face-to-face lectures to be extended through the September and December vacation breaks and, for some cohorts, to extend the academic programme into 2021.”

UKZN weighing up options

Last Thursday, the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) also said that it was exploring ways to resume the academic programme. The university said these include the possibility of losing a portion of the academic year or extending the academic year beyond December 2020. 

“The commencement of online learning will be decided on following further discussions and consultations with the student community. In the meantime, we have initiated a process to transfer all our academic course material onto virtual platforms, for completion at the end of April 2020,” UKZN said in a statement. 

The university added that it would look at “creative solutions” to address the challenges of some of its students’ lack of access to technological devices and data. 

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

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