Deputy Higher Education Minister Buti Manamela today took a swipe at Wits University and other institutions across the country who are resuming their academic programmes online as of Monday.
Manamela took to Twitter and Facebook to raise his frustrations with universities’ plans to resume the academic year remotely.
He said the move by the institutions of higher learning will sideline students from poor backgrounds.
“For @WitsUniversity and others to insist on resuming academic programmes ONLINE tomorrow even when some students will be left behind, and after agreement with all stakeholders to work towards a later date when we are all ready, is irresponsible and inconsiderate,” wrote Manamela.
“No student should be left behind. Students who have no study gadgets or internet connectivity should not be treated as though they are the cause of #Covid_19. We will ensure that we take all students along.”
It was not immediately clear on why Manamela waited until the eleventh hour to raise his discomfort with the resumption of the academic year tomorrow.
Universities South Africa (USAf), a body that is made up of all vice-chancellors of South Africa’s public universities earlier this month laid out plans to resume the academic year remotely as from tomorrow.
Wits University said that the university has signed an agreement with MTN and Vodacom to provide students with 30GB of data at no cost to Wits students for one month starting from tomorrow.
Wits vice-chancellor Adam Habib, said the university was ready to walk the online journey with students.
“There are student leaders who have asked me not to go on with online learning and teaching or postpone it until all our students have a device,” Habib said.
“This unfortunately is the interpretation of social justice that goes to the lowest denominator. I and the university do not share that interpretation of social justice.”
He added on top of the data that will be made available to students, the university had also provided nearly 5 000 gadgets to students who do not have one as a measure to mitigate against inequality consequences.
Other universities in the country have also agreed with telecommunications providers to provide students with zero rated access to online platforms.
However, Manamela’s frustration was shared by several student representatives.
The Wits EFF Student Command secretary Phumzile Mathibela, said socio-economic issues such as access to electricity are factors the university has not considered.
“The e-learning program will continue to exclude the majority of students, contributing to socioeconomic and racial achievement gaps,” Mathibela said.
DASO (Democratic Alliance Student Organisation) University of Western Cape acting chairperson Zeke Wareley, said the university was not ready to proceed with the academic programme as not every registered student had access to online methods of learning.
“We are once again, making a call to the executive management to postpone all academic activity until the issue of resources has been resolved,” Wereley said.