Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology, Blade Nzimande, says it is clear that blended and multimodal learning, including digital and online learning, must become a standard part of the higher education system in future.
Nzimande was briefing the media on Thursday on efforts by his department to save the 2020 tertiary academic year in spite of the disruptions brought by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I want to assure South Africans that all our universities are fully committed to complete the 2020 academic year by mid-March 2021. Twenty-five universities are set to start the 2021 academic year at end of March 2021 and one university in April,” said Nzimande.
While pushing for increased e-learning, the minister also acceded: “We must also immediately point out that a significant number of students, especially those at historically-black universities and campuses, and those living in working-class and poor communities, have struggled to access digital platforms because of lack of devices, connectivity, and other family household circumstances.”
Nzimande addressed delays around the purchasing of laptops for National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) students, saying a tender had been approved and the laptops would be provided to students in the new academic year.
“It was very important to ensure that the procurement processes were followed very strictly,” Nzimande said.
Nzimande said the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic would be felt for years to come in most sectors, including the tertiary academic space.
He said his department had been working with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the National Centre for Communicable Diseases (NICD) to map the way forward for tertiary students.
He added that he had taken note of Covid-19 cluster outbreaks in the Eastern Cape, in particular.
“We do anticipate more cluster outbreaks in more provinces and institutions,” he warned, asking that students and academic staff remain disciplined regarding basic hygiene protocols.