Final year students to return to varsity under level 3, free data

Minister Blade Nzimande. GCIS

Final year stu­dents and those grad­u­at­ing in 2020 may return to cam­pus under lev­el 3 lock­down. 

Brief­ing the media on mea­sures in response to COVID-19, the Min­is­ter of High­er Edu­ca­tion, Sci­ence and Inno­va­tion, Dr Blade Nzi­mande, said under lev­el 3 which is still to be announced, a max­i­mum of 33% of the stu­dents will be allowed to return to cam­pus­es, deliv­ery sites and res­i­dences.

He told the media this is on con­di­tion that the ter­tiary insti­tu­tions are in line with the health and safe­ty pro­to­cols as direct­ed by the depart­ment.

Anoth­er group of stu­dent free to return to uni­ver­si­ty once the coun­try is down­grad­ed from lev­el 4 include the final year and post­grad­u­ate stu­dents who require access to lab­o­ra­to­ries, tech­ni­cal equip­ment, data, con­nec­tiv­i­ty and access to the res­i­dence and pri­vate accom­mo­da­tion.

“Stu­dents in all years of study that require clin­i­cal train­ing in their pro­grammes pro­vid­ed that the clin­i­cal train­ing plat­forms have suf­fi­cient space and can accom­mo­date them while adher­ing to the safe­ty pro­to­cols,” he explained.

He said a two to three weeks peri­od would be giv­en after the lev­el 3 announce­ment depend­ing on the readi­ness and capac­i­ty of each insti­tu­tion.

“Should lev­el 3 be announced to begin on 15 June, then stu­dents would be recalled to start two to three weeks there­after. In oth­er words, a peri­od of two to three weeks will be giv­en to allow stu­dents to trav­el back to their cam­pus­es and insti­tu­tions to ensure that the cam­pus­es are effec­tive­ly pre­pared for the return.”

The Min­is­ter said he would pub­lish guide­lines in terms of the Dis­as­ter Man­age­ment Act to per­mit such trav­el that will be issued by insti­tu­tions.

“It is crit­i­cal that we adhere to these cri­te­ria to ensure that cam­pus­es are ready for stu­dents to safe­ly return, and the effec­tive health screen­ing, clean­ing pro­to­cols are in place to keep every­one safe.”

Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa is cur­rent­ly in con­sul­ta­tions with dif­fer­ent stake­hold­ers, as the coun­try gets ready to move from lev­el 4 to lev­el 3 of the nation­al lock­down.

Mean­while, Nzi­mande said all the oth­er stu­dents would be sup­port­ed through remote mul­ti­modal teach­ing, learn­ing and assess­ment until they can return to cam­pus.

“It is recog­nised that some insti­tu­tions may iden­ti­fy oth­er groups of stu­dents in line with their par­tic­u­lar con­texts. How­ev­er, any devi­a­tion from these cri­te­ria must be approved by my depart­ment and must fall with­in a max­i­mum of 33% of the stu­dent pop­u­la­tion.”

He acknowl­edged COVID-19 has dis­rupt­ed the 2020 aca­d­e­m­ic year but said they were deter­mined to sal­vage what is left of it while sav­ing lives.

“I would like to reit­er­ate that our sector’s response to COVID-19 is guid­ed by mea­sures announced by the Nation­al Com­mand Coun­cil (NCC) and approved by Cab­i­net,” he added.

Free data for strug­gling stu­dents

Nzi­mande recog­nised that the cost of con­nec­tiv­i­ty remains a huge bar­ri­er for stu­dents who want to use the dig­i­tal learn­ing mode as part of the mul­ti­modal and remote learn­ing.

How­ev­er, he said they have already struck a deal with all net­work providers and mobile net­work oper­a­tors to have zero-rat­ed edu­ca­tion­al con­tent sites of the pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties, Tech­ni­cal and Voca­tion­al Edu­ca­tion and Train­ing (TVET) and Com­mu­ni­ty Edu­ca­tion and Train­ing (CET) Col­leges, includ­ing Agri­cul­tur­al and Nurs­ing Col­leges.

“Zero-rat­ing means that access to insti­tu­tion­al web­sites will be free, although some of the embed­ded con­tent like YouTube and videos will be charged for,” he explained.

He said they are now work­ing on mak­ing “Edu­ca­tion­al Data Bun­dles” avail­able to all Nation­al Stu­dent Finan­cial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) stu­dents in uni­ver­si­ties and TVET Col­leges that they can use to pay for addi­tion­al con­tent not cov­ered through the zero-rat­ing.

“I am pleased to announce that we have suc­cess­ful­ly nego­ti­at­ed with all mobile net­work oper­a­tors very favourable rates for our NSFAS stu­dents, includ­ing the Fun­za Lusha­ka stu­dents who will receive 10GB day­time and 20GB night-time data for three months, start­ing from 1 June till the end of August, as sub­sidised by gov­ern­ment.”

The depart­ment will then give detailed infor­ma­tion on how to access these offers.

How­ev­er, gov­ern­ment is cur­rent­ly not in a posi­tion to sub­sidise stu­dents who fall with­in the so-called “miss­ing mid­dle” cat­e­go­ry and those who study in pri­vate insti­tu­tions.

“We, how­ev­er, appeal to mobile net­work oper­a­tors to work with insti­tu­tions to also offer afford­able pack­ages to such stu­dents. I am how­ev­er work­ing towards the estab­lish­ment of an afford­able high­er edu­ca­tion loan scheme involv­ing the pri­vate sec­tor.”

He has urged NSFAS and the Fun­za Lusha­ka stu­dents to reg­is­ter their cell­phone num­bers with their respec­tive insti­tu­tions.

“We advise that dur­ing this peri­od, they must also not change their sim-cards so as to enable net­work oper­a­tors, through their insti­tu­tions, to load data to their devices.”

Nzi­mande has also stressed that this data must be only used for edu­ca­tion­al pur­pos­es.

The depart­ment has also made free dig­i­tal con­tent avail­able specif­i­cal­ly to TVET Col­lege stu­dents through the DHET web­site, the Nation­al Open Learn­ing Sys­tem (NOLS) of the depart­ment, insti­tu­tion­al web­sites and oth­er sites, where stu­dents can find dig­i­tal mate­ri­als which will assist them in their learn­ing and prepa­ra­tion for exams.

“I, there­fore, call upon all our TVET stu­dents to vis­it these sites and see for them­selves the myr­i­ad of con­tent avail­able to assist them.”

He said uni­ver­si­ties will also be deliv­er­ing paper-based teach­ing and learn­ing mate­ri­als to stu­dents who do not have the resources to engage elec­tron­i­cal­ly or online.

The depart­ment is also work­ing around the clock to ensure NSFAS stu­dents have access to lap­tops.

Lev­el 4 (Start­ed 1 May 2020)

Under lev­el 4, med­ical stu­dents have been return­ing to clin­i­cal train­ing plat­forms from 11 May, and oth­er final stu­dents in oth­er pro­grammes requir­ing clin­i­cal train­ing will begin return­ing from 1 June 2020.

“All oth­er stu­dents are sup­port­ed through remote mul­ti­modal teach­ing, learn­ing and assess­ment until they can return to cam­pus.”

Lev­el 2

Nzi­mande said when a dis­trict moves to lev­el 2 of the strat­e­gy, then the rein­te­gra­tion of the next group of stu­dents to return to con­tact tuition on cam­pus­es locat­ed in that dis­trict will take place accord­ing to the fol­low­ing cri­te­ria.

“Once again, a two week peri­od will be giv­en to allow stu­dents to trav­el back to their cam­pus­es and for insti­tu­tions to ensure that the cam­pus­es are effec­tive­ly pre­pared for the rein­te­gra­tion.”

The depart­ment said a max­i­mum of 66% of the stu­dent pop­u­la­tion will return to cam­pus for teach­ing, learn­ing and assess­ment in line with the fol­low­ing cri­te­ria under this lev­el.

The group will include stu­dents in all years of study who require lab­o­ra­to­ry and tech­ni­cal equip­ment to com­plete the aca­d­e­m­ic year, stu­dents in all years of study who require prac­ti­cal place­ments, expe­ri­en­tial and work­place-based learn­ing to com­plete the aca­d­e­m­ic year pro­vid­ed the work­places and plat­forms are open and pre­pared.

First-year stu­dents in all under­grad­u­ate pro­grammes will also go back.

“Again, insti­tu­tions may also con­sid­er select­ed return of oth­er cat­e­gories of stu­dents to res­i­dences who may face extreme dif­fi­cul­ties in their home learn­ing envi­ron­ments pro­vid­ed that the above cat­e­gories are pri­or­i­tized, and all safe­ty and logis­ti­cal require­ments are met.”

Lev­el 1

In the same way, when lev­el 1 is announced, a two-week peri­od will be giv­en in order for stu­dents to trav­el back to their cam­pus­es and for insti­tu­tions to ensure that the cam­pus­es are effec­tive­ly pre­pared for the rein­te­gra­tion.

All stu­dents should return to cam­pus.

“We are there­fore going to require the strictest enforce­ment of phys­i­cal dis­tanc­ing and health pro­to­cols,” he said, adding that guide­lines will be out­lined in the Gov­ern­ment Gazette.

The depart­ment has facil­i­tat­ed the train­ing of almost 17 750 front­line health work­ers, the lead­er­ship and mem­ber­ship of trade unions, and shop stew­ards on deal­ing with COVID-19.

TVET Col­leges

The depart­ment has drawn a ten­ta­tive aca­d­e­m­ic cal­en­dar for TVET Col­leges pend­ing any new announce­ments on the dif­fer­ent lev­els of the lock­down by the Pres­i­dent.

In terms of the ten­ta­tive cal­en­dar, the fol­low­ing return dates apply:

NATED Trimester (Engi­neer­ing) stu­dents

  • N6 & N3: 10 June
  • N5 & N2: 15 June
  • N4 & N1: 22 June

NATED Semes­ter (Busi­ness Stud­ies) stu­dents

  • N6: 25 June
  • N5: 29 June
  • N4: 06 July

NC (V) stu­dents

  • lev­el 4:   13 July
  • lev­el 3:   20 July
  • lev­el 2:   27 July

Com­mu­ni­ty edu­ca­tion and train­ing

With regards to the CET Col­lege sys­tem prepa­ra­tion for the return of stu­dents and staff to col­leges and com­mu­ni­ty learn­ing cen­tres, he said the depart­ment con­tin­ues to engage with a vari­ety of stake­hold­ers includ­ing labour and church­es to strength­en the capac­i­ty of the sys­tem.

“Guid­ed by the prin­ci­ple to save lives and the aca­d­e­m­ic year, the CET col­leges will spend the rest of May 2020 prepar­ing the cen­tral offices and the learn­ing cen­tres to be ready for the safe return of staff and stu­dents.”

Sub­ject to the readi­ness of the col­leges and cen­tre, the fol­low­ing are the dates for the return of dif­fer­ent cat­e­gories of staff to their work­sta­tions:

  • 25 May 2020:  Prin­ci­pals, Deputy Prin­ci­pals and Sup­ply Chain Man­age­ment staff.
  • 1 June 2020: Cen­tre man­agers.
  • 8 June 2020: all Lec­tur­ers.
  • 17 June for stu­dents reg­is­tered for Gen­er­al Edu­ca­tion Train­ing Cer­tifi­cate, Senior Cer­tifi­cate as well Nation­al Occu­pa­tion­al Cer­tifi­cates qual­i­fi­ca­tions or part-qual­i­fi­ca­tions.

The return of Adult Edu­ca­tion and Train­ing (AET) lev­els 1 to 3 stu­dents will be syn­chro­nised with the return of learn­ers in the low­er grades in the pub­lic schools.

“In the unfor­tu­nate event that some learn­ing sites are locat­ed in dis­tricts and met­ros that remain on lock­down lev­el 4 such learn­ing sites shall be closed or remain closed.”

He said affect­ed stu­dent reg­is­tered for Gen­er­al Edu­ca­tion and Train­ing Cer­tifi­cate, Senior Cer­tifi­cate, Nation­al Occu­pa­tion­al Cer­tifi­cates shall only get an oppor­tu­ni­ty to sit for the exam­i­na­tion in May/June 2021 to enable them to com­plete the 2020 aca­d­e­m­ic year.

Sec­tor edu­ca­tion and train­ing author­i­ties

Nzi­mande said SETAs are cur­rent­ly engag­ing the employ­ers and skills devel­op­ment insti­tu­tions in pub­lic and pri­vate regard­ing the return of learn­ers.

“We are all aware that under Risk-Adjust­ed Strat­e­gy Alert Lev­el 4, there is a lim­it­ed num­ber of employ­ees who can return to the work­places, how­ev­er, I would like to make a call to all employ­ers, both in the pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tors even dur­ing Alert Lev­el 4, to turn their work­places into train­ing spaces. This also goes beyond this lev­el,” he plead­ed.

Remote mul­ti-modal teach­ing and learn­ing plans

Nzi­mande said all pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties have devel­oped detailed strate­gies for remote mul­ti­modal teach­ing and learn­ing dur­ing the peri­od of the cur­rent lock­down.

“Insti­tu­tions have devel­oped their detailed insti­tu­tion­al plans, as each insti­tu­tion is unique and we can­not fol­low a ‘one size fits all’ approach,” he said.

The depart­ment is work­ing with insti­tu­tions and com­mit­ted to ensur­ing that all stu­dents are giv­en a fair oppor­tu­ni­ty to com­plete the aca­d­e­m­ic year 2020.

“Uni­ver­si­ty Teach­ing, Learn­ing, Assess­ment and Cam­pus Readi­ness Plans have been sub­mit­ted to the depart­ment along with a detailed cost­ing of the addi­tion­al fund­ing required to imple­ment them,” he said, adding that they are cur­rent­ly review­ing them. – SAnews.gov.za

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