In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic reached South Africa and the country went into a strict lockdown to try and contain the situation. In the following months, a group of University of Pretoria development studies students – themselves forced to leave campus and student residences and try to learn online – wrote about this unprecedented situation. In this short collection we share some of these experiences; some reveal what the students themselves were going through, some capture the stories of others around them. No-one, at the time of writing these really imagined that a year later we would still be so severely affected by this pandemic. But here we are, all still grappling with many of the same challenges. We hope you find these glimpses of how others have been affected in some way illuminating and perhaps encouraging.
Marc Wegerif and Bontle Modubu – March 2021
University of Pretoria, Department of Anthropology and Archaeology.
The impact of online learning on university students during the coronavirus outbreak
On the 30th of April 2020, the Minister of Higher Education and Training, Dr Blade Nzimande, announced that the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) would distribute devices (laptops), with connectivity to digital remote learning platforms, to all students. Whilst waiting for the government’s action, learning institutions such as the University of Pretoria (UP) have already made means to distribute laptops to their students in order to continue with the academic year. This has played a major role for those students that depend on university computers that can only be accessed when on campus.
“I am so delighted by the support provided by the university, I can now do my academic work conveniently without having to travel to campus in order to access computers. It was challenging to attend lectures and remain on campus until late in order to type assignments as I did not have a personal computer”, says William, a Social Work student from the University of Pretoria.
Even though there has been progress at the University of Pretoria, this is not the case with students from other universities who are still waiting for the government’s support.
Zero-rated links and data costs
Taking into account that laptops are not the only requirement when it comes to remote learning, some universities have provided zero-rated links and data for their students in order to make remote learning a success, and curb the inequalities that arise.
The University of Pretoria also came up with an innovative concept to give its students what they need at no cost through the zero-rated link called “UP Connect”. With the above being done, it has not been a smooth ride for some students as they experience technical and connectivity issues.
As a UP student, I have also been experiencing technical issues with regards to connecting using the zero-rated link, so I have to buy data in order to access lecture slides, academic information and to listen to recordings of lectures at a later stage since I am unable to join online sessions during the set time. The fact that I can always access recordings of the session at a later stage, has helped me keep up with what happens each and every day
A Bachelor of Information Technology student that I interviewed said that he copes very well with remote learning especially because his roommate is not around, and having sufficient internet connection and two computers (his computer and the university computer) has made things so much easier for him.
“I don’t regret remaining at the student residence before the lockdown because it was going to affect my studies negatively since my home is overcrowded, and considering how other international students that left are struggling now.”
Impact on postgraduate students
As a postgraduate student, I personally feel like COVID-19, has to some extent, a negative impact on my research since I am doing a research proposal for the first time. I am researching a new issue which requires me to keep abreast about what is unfolding, but I find it very difficult to carry out my research because I do not have access to the library and don’t have enough data to search for articles/information related to my specific research topic on the internet.
A Geography and Environmental Management student from the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) attests to this:
“Sweetheart they don’t care about us. We have filled forms, we tried to reach out to them, the SRC. Nobody cares. And I have spent R2,000 on data already. My research needs internet!”
Taona an engineering student said:
“Some of the work requires practical analysis to understand. Interpreting already synthesised data from practical experiments does not give me the idea of how tasks should be done and deduce proper results, since I only rely on theoretical methodology which is not useful for future hands scenario. Engineering requires a lot of group discussions with colleagues in person on how to solve or come up with a related solution”.
Author: Sinqobile Zuma
Read the collection in PDBY: next installment 24/05