Lockdown: Student leaders at Wits, UJ want more discussion before online learning starts

Lockdown: Universities prepare to switch to online learning from Monday

Wits has provided disadvantaged students with laptops, which are currently being delivered, and has also made 30GB data available to all students, at no cost. 

But Students’ Representative Council (SRC) president Thuto Gabaphethe told News24 there were other issues the institution needed to take into consideration before deciding to resume studies online. 

He said although the university is providing students with data and devices, the majority lived in communities with poor network coverage and others in areas without electricity.

He said the institution did not make provision for such students, adding that others were living in households which were not conducive to learning and online teaching.

“Ours is still to say that [providing data and devices to students] does not solve the problems as there are still issues outstanding that have not been addressed. International students are not covered by this. You have international students that went back to their countries and this data and devices [offer] does not cover for them. 

“There are still students that just don’t have network and those that live in households not conducive to learning,” Gabaphethe said. 

He added that the SRC had also asked the university what measures it had in place for such students. To date, no direction had been given.

Gabaphethe said the SRC had also raised issues on the fee structure, now that the institution was moving to completing the semester online. 

In a message to students via a YouTube Video, and shared on the institution’s platforms, Wits vice-chancellor Adam Habib said some students had argued the institution should wait for everyone to receive devices, but the university did not share the same interpretation of social justice. 

“That interpretation of social justice goes to the lowest common denominator. It says we cannot proceed and advance unless every single one of our students and staff are on an equal footing. I think it’s a populist interpretation of social justice,” the vice-chancellor argued. 

Habib said, although the university was committed to social justice, it also believed the concerns raised were not in the interest of all students. 

Similar concerns

UJ’s interim SRC also called for the online classes to be postponed until the end of the month. They raised concerns over students who had no access to network and devices, and about students in households not conducive to learning. 

The SRC also called for students, who wished to return to residences, to be allowed to do so after the lockdown. 

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“The management still went ahead to implement online learning which started today. However, we are still in the dark as students. We still haven’t received communication on when they are going to issue data and laptops – and which criteria they will use to issue it [laptops],” SRC interim president Xolani Sifundza said. 

Sifundza said they were also concerned that, while other students had started with online learning, others were left behind as they wait for support. 

Department to pronounce way forward

Higher Education and Training spokesperson Ishmael Mnisi told News24 that all institutions were given guidelines to resume the term online from 4 May. 

Mnisi said the minister, Blade Nzimande, would be making further pronouncements on the continuation of the academic year during a media briefing before the end of the week. 

In response, Gabaphethe said it was mind-blowing that the department would only make a pronouncement later in the week, but some institutions would have already rolled out online teaching.

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