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Blade Nzimande’s Plan To Rescue 2020 Academic Year For Tertiary Institutions

Nyakallo Tefu

Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande has tabled the department’s risk-based plan to save the 2020 academic year at universities and TVET colleges.

Nzimande’s plan will see tertiary students resume classes via online learning as from June 1.

Nzimande updated Parliament’s portfolio committee on higher education on Thursday regarding preparations to rescue the tertiary academic year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“From 1 June 2020, all institutions to be offering forms of remote multimodal flexible teaching and learning which will be supported by approved resourced plans”, said Nzimande

The minister said the department was trying to assist all students to receive digital devices before end of the month.

 “I am writing a letter to the minister of finance for permission to call for expression of interest as early as the end of next week for those who will be able to help with devices”, said Nzimande.

Following weeks of silence, Nzimande said his plans are not only to save the academic year but the lives of staff and the students during the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

He also pointed out that the National Student Financial Aid students will all receive digital devices to assist them with online learning.

“All students registered with NSFAS will have access to necessary devices if they have not received through their institutions,” said Nzimande.

He said the higher education department has communicated with universities and colleges and by next week they will have sufficient information on the number of students in need of a digital device.

The department said the return of students to their various institutions will depend on the level of the lockdown that the country is on.

“Level 3 and 2 further phasing in of groups of students (undergraduate and postgraduate) based on national criteria to ensure controlled return, social distancing and other protocols to support student and staff health and safety”, added the department.

The department has also tabled the possible end of the academic year by 2021, depending on when the students will return to their various institution.

The department said only at Level 1 will universities and TVET colleges see the return of all students with social distancing and health protocols still in place.

During the briefing, the department said in their scenario planning, they have set aside 27 weeks of contact-based learning, which is only expected at level 1 of the lockdown regulations. However, groups would be split to ensure social distancing regulations.

The department also tabled its challenges in implementing online teaching and learning in universities.

Four areas were stated as main concerns: devices, data and connectivity for staff and students; Implementation of alternative flexible teaching and learning modalities; the phased-in return of students and staff and campus readiness; financial sustainability into the future.

Final year clinical training students have been the exception when it comes to resuming contact-based teaching and learning.

The Department said nine Institutions with medical schools are preparing to phase-in final year students in medical programs (MBChB).

Programmes at the University of Witwatersrand, University of Pretoria and Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University resumed on 11 May 2020, while the University of Cape Town, University of Limpopo, University of KwaZulu Natal and University of Free State will commence on May 18.

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