The University of the Witwatersrand announced on Tuesday that lectures will resume as from 20 April, after it launched an emergency remote online teaching and learning programme as one of the measures to help minimize the time lost in the 2020 academic year.
Professor Adam Habib, Wits Vice Chancellor and Principal confirmed the decision to resume lectures, saying the global coronavirus pandemic has presented major disruptions for higher education and the only way to navigate the challenges brought on by the rapid spread of COVID-19 was through remote online teaching and learning.
“We are acutely aware of the anxiety and uncertainty that online teaching and learning presents for both our colleagues and students. The world as we know it is in flux, and it will take our collective courage, dexterity and commitment to fend off the effects of this pandemic and to adapt to new ways of teaching and learning,” says Professor Adam Habib, Wits Vice-Chancellor and Principal.
Online learning has been a debatable issue in the country, with many worried about everyone having access to the internet and the high cost of data in South Africa.
However, the Wits education department says it has done its own research regarding the challenges of online teaching solutions and has come up with the following solutions:
Access to devices, data and learning resources
Multiple surveys across the institution have revealed that between 10% and 15% of Wits students do not have access to appropriate computing devices, adequate access to data or conducive learning environments.
To this end, the University is putting in place the following measures to ensure that the majority of students are able to learn remotely:
* Wits has established a Mobile Computing Bank which will enable qualifying students who do not have access to appropriate mobile learning devices to loan basic devices from the Bank. These basic computing devices will be suitable for educational purposes and will be pre-loaded 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;
* The University has finalised an agreement with four telecommunications service providers: Telkom, MTN, Vodacom and Cell C to zero-rate Wits’ library and learning management sites from 15 April 2020. The full list of zero-rated sites is available via this link: https://www.wits.ac.za/mywits/zero-rated-data-to-students-and-applicants/
“We understand that our emergency remote teaching and learning plan has to take into consideration the different learning environments of our students and their access to learning resources, appropriate devices and data,” said Professor Ruksana Osman, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Academic.
“The University is aware that the playing field is uneven and that whilst many in society and our community enjoy greater levels of privilege, the consequences of the pandemic have illuminated and amplified the existing inequalities in our society with the poor, marginal, precarious and under-resourced disproportionally experiencing its fallout”, said Osman.