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‘Clueless’ Higher Education Minister Failing University Students: EFFSC

Nyakallo Tefu 

The Economic Freedom Fighters Student Command (EFFSC) has accused Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande of ‘inaction’ and ‘indecisiveness’ on how best to deal with the commencement of the 2020 academic year at universities and TVET colleges in the face of the coronavirus crisis.

In an interview with Inside Education this week, EFFSC President Mandla Shikwambana said Nzimande should stop running away from dealing with the issues of remote online learning and the commencement of the 2020 academic year. 

“Minister Blade Nzimande cannot keep running away from us, he needs to address the issues at hand because running away will not work for his department,” said Shikwambana.

“I don’t know if Minister Nzimande is becoming too old to deal with issues of the ministry of Higher Education, but we have never seen any leadership from him up to so far. He is not coming forward with directions. He is just quiet.”

The Departments of Higher Education and Basic Education twice postponed scheduled media briefings on how to go about re-opening schools during the Level 4 lockdown.

Shikwambana said they have written to Nzimande to provide electronic devices for all students (laptops and tablets), data to all students and that all university websites and TVET college websites must be free to access for all students.

He said government should also ensure that network coverage is improved for all students to be able to commence with learning online.  

“All institutions must create an institutional fund to address the issue of finance for all that the EFFSC is suggesting,” said Shikwambana.

The Democratic Alliance Student Organization’s (DASO) chairperson Kwena Moloto said his organization wanted all students to receive the same quality of education, regardless of where they come from.

“There needs to be constant communication across the sector to consistently keep tabs on how students are doing. No academic exclusions of the results that students receive during this time,” said Moloto.

“In addition, no student should lose their NSFAS or bursary based on the results that they receive during the course of this period and no student is charged in the following academic year for any modules that they have to repeat because of difficulties faced owing on to e-learning.”

There has been controversy surrounding the implementation of remote online learning at universities, with most student organizations and students saying that this new system will work against underprivileged students. 

However, some students say they have adapted to remote online and learning despite challenges elsewhere.

Fourth year student at the University of the Witwatersrand Sello Mathibela said the transition from contact lessons to online learning was hard but he eventually got used to it.

“I am actually enjoying it since the lessons are recorded for us to download. Basically, it is great and convenient”, said Mathibela. 

First year student at The University of Johannesburg Thoko Ndaba said online has been going very well for her her fellow students.

Wits has provided students with 30GB of data (10GB day and 20GB night), while UJ has given its students 30G of data (20G day and 10G night express). 

Shikwambana said as much as they are not against e-learning, they view this decision by the department of higher education as a premature solution for the academic year to continue. 

“We are saying that South African students are not ready for this way of learning, not only the students, but the institutions of higher learning and TVET learning”, said Shikwambana. 

Shikwambana added that the higher learning institutions do not have systems that will allow for online learning to be successful in the country. 

Students at some universities like the University of Stellenbosch and the University of Cape Town will only commence with the online system as from May 04. 

Moloto said DASO was the first to student organization to raise the issue online learning. 

“It is difficult times that we are facing and the reality is that we have to adjust because one thing we agree on as student organizations together with the department of higher education, is that we want to see the completion of the 2020 academic year,” said Moloto.

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