Give students who fail this year another chance, says student council body

Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister Blade Nzimande
Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister Blade Nzimande

Tertiary students who fail dismally this year should not be expelled, but rather be given another chance next year. So said the SA Union of Students (Saus) in a submission to the higher education, science and innovation task team last Thursday.

The department of higher education, science and innovation has been tasked with looking into tackling the crisis in academic institutions, which have been disrupted by the national lockdown aimed at curbing Covid-19 coronavirus infections.

Saus represents student representative councils at 26 universities, public colleges.

City Press tried to contact other stakeholders, such as Universities SA, with 26 university vice-chancellors members, and the SA College Principals’ Organisation, made up of about 50 college principals, but they did not respond to questions.

Saus’ stance was confirmed by one of the organisation’s national executive members, Solomon Khiba, on Friday, when he said the body wanted academic exclusion to be scrapped for failing students.

Khiba said students who would be academically excluded were those who failed to pass at least 50% of their modules for two consecutive years or semesters.

“We are saying that, because of the impact of the coronavirus outbreak, this particular policy must not be considered,” he said.

Read: Universities on high alert as Covid-19 spreads

Another proposal that Saus put forward was that students should return to residences this month, that studies should resume in August, and that e-learning and a mix of other teaching methods should be considered.

On students returning to residences, Khiba said that Saus was aware that the movement of people had been restricted. However, he pointed out that Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula had relaxed some of the regulations and made changes to accommodate some of the concerns raised by taxi owners and operators.

“So we hope Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister Blade Nzimande will do the same to allow students to go back to residences.”

Concerns about a lack of access to the internet had been raised during consultation with students, Khiba said.

“We propose that students must go back to residences to minimise some of those challenges. For example, students from remote villages where there is no internet access would then not be disadvantaged. By returning, students who need to contact their lecturers will get the chance to speak to them and still observe social distancing.”

Nzimande’s spokesperson, Ishmael Mnisi, said the department was working on concrete plans to save the academic year.

“We are taking into account measures to deal with the possibility of a soft lockdown period. We are finalising measures to be put in place after the lockdown period.

“Through our departmental task team for Covid-19, we are discussing issues of remote learning [e-learning] with various stakeholders,” he said.

We are taking into account measures to deal with the possibility of a soft lockdown period. We are finalising measures to be put in place after the lockdown period.
Nzimande’s spokesperson, Ishmael Mnisi

To this purpose, lessons for the technical and vocational skills sector have begun on DStv channel 265 GauTV at 6.30am for half an hour on weekdays.

Universities have developed various measures to ensure that learning continues under the lockdown.

“These have been communicated to the students at the various institutions through internal communication channels,” Mnisi said.

“You will recall that we issued a statement regarding the task team, its coordination and members. Ultimately, the work the department does is processed through the national command council led by President Cyril Ramaphosa.

“Nzimande will, through the National Command Council media briefings, make further public pronouncements on the detailed plans of the post school education and training sector after the lockdown period,” Mnisi said.

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