Universities must be inclusive of student demographical representation

Young girl studied for exams. File Photo.

It is comprehensible that our education sector is facing extraordinary times due to Covid-19 and there is a need to adapt for the completion of the academic year 2020. Universities of South Africa (USAf) is said to have put forward the framework that suggests different scenarios on what must happen next. 

This includes proposals that universities shall open on the 1st of June and complete the year semester on 24 December which will be 27 weeks. While a different proposal suggests 1st August to 28 February 2021. They further suggest that universities will do online/alternative teaching and learning delivery mechanism after April 2020. This sounds good and it is plausible but if it is not inclusive of all involved stakeholders it will course more confusion and will lead to a disaster. 

The (USAf ) is further expected to meet on the 17th of April to further engage in these proposals. The sad part is that in all these meetings and suggestions there is no student representation and this has forever been the case with the South Africa education sector and its leadership style. The Vice-chancellors, University executives, Deans and so forth always practice this same leadership style where they engage and decide on matters involving students without their representation. 

This delegation will take decisions and later call meetings with SRCs just to inform them on decisions taken by USAf meetings and SRCs will have to add no input but to toe the line on what University bosses have agreed upon in their meetings. 

I warn the DHET and USAf to make sure that these meetings which are deciding on the next step with regards to completion of the academic year 2020 be inclusive of all stakeholders or else these decisions will later be rejected by students on merit and will not be feasible. 

For example, UNISA has announced that they have decided to email May/June 2020 exam to students and students will have to write these exams and submit them online. This happens without UNISA having conducted any survey to check on student’s readiness to adapt to this. Surely lots of students who will have no means to adapt to these new changes will fail this semester. 

We may all want to be positive and accept the notion that South Africa is ready to swap from traditional teaching to online teaching but the reality is that this will come with a lot of consequences due to the country not being technically advanced in dis-advantaged areas. The reality is that in South Africa, our students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds do not have access to expensive data not to mention having access to all necessary gadgets like laptops.

This online teaching and learning will expose more the gaps between the rich and the poor in South Africa. If these decisions are taken without considering the realities faced by South African youth in townships and rural areas, then heading for disaster. I dare to say, these decisions will only be an extension of inequalities in our country instead of being the immediate critically needed solutions as those who head them may want to believe. 

Sthembiso Ka Shandu is a former TUT SRC Vice President, Soshanguve Campus. He is completing his Master’s degree with Applied Languages Department at TUT. He writes in his own capacity as a social and student activist.