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.
Problems faced by higher education students
This is the reflection of the shift to online learning from a second year BCom student at the University of Pretoria. Khaya Kekana (not his real name) is 22 years old, lives at his family’s home and used to travel to the Hatfield campus using taxis. He would leave campus at 4pm daily. Khaya’s home does not have a study room and there are many distractions, especially his three family members who are not quiet during his study sessions. He studies in his bedroom with no chair or desk. Khaya used to spend most of his time in the library. He used the time when he was not in lectures to study, complete assignments or use free Wi-Fi because he struggled to study effectively at home. Campus being shut-down due to lockdown regulations and the threat of COVID-19 to students severely affected his study routine.
The internet connection at his home is also not as efficient as the Wi-Fi connection in the library or on campus in general. In addition, online learning is new to him, and adjusting has proven to be a difficult task as he lives at home but is used to studying in the library, which is quiet and provides him with a working station. The data costs accompanied by online learning are high, so this imposes a financial strain on most students. Khaya feels that although the university is trying its best to bring aid to its students, his concern is that it will not be enough. He feels that a lot has been compromised. Khaya also mentioned how this change in events has affected his mental health, and says:
“all of this has become a bit overwhelming, but it is something I will have to accept. The uncertainties about this academic year have taken [their] toll on my mental health and anxiety. My hope is that the situation does eventually stabilise soon, so the normal order of business can resume”.
Read the collection in PDBY: next installment 12/04