Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande said the Department of Higher Education has decided it would not resume with campus class activity during the level 4 lockdown.
This only exemption are final year clinical students under strict measures, to ultimately aid government in its national fight against the novel coronavirus.
“Universities and TVET colleges do not operate in a vacuum but in a historic context.”
“We will be developing and implementing multimodal remote effective learning systems.”
This, according to Nzimande, is to provide reasonable academic support to all higher education learners.
“No single student will be left behind in our strategy in terms of ensuring that we do all we can to complete the 2020 academic year,” Nzimande said.
He said where physical delivery of learning materials were required and where no immediate digital means were ready, the department ensure that students were provided with instructional materials.
For those who had no immediate digital means ready to continue with their studies or may need to have learning material physically delivered to them, Nzimande said the department was finalising the procurement and distribution of devices (laptops) for all students and its connectivity into digital remote learning platforms.
DEEP CLEANING AND SANITISING
According to Nzimande,when students return to campuses, protocols would be in place for the maintenance of physical distance, access to hand sanitisers and protective masks, and continual deep cleaning of facilities.
In addition, reopening will entail the screening/testing of staff and students, with environmental cleaning of campuses and residences. It was also identifying sites for quarantine facilities in or near institutions as may be required.
“We will also be providing mental health support and other forms of support necessary for staff and students throughout.”
NSFAS FUNDING WILL CONTINUE
Nzimande said the National Student Financial Aid Scheme Funding would continue for students for the rest of the year.
“The likely extension of the academic year will require additional funding to maintain allowances for students while they complete the academic year. As a Department, we are therefore working with NSFAS, in modelling these costs,” Nzimande said.
NEW PLAN FOR UNIVERSITIES
Nzimande said the 2020 academic year would be reorganised to enable all institutions and their students to complete academic requirements, with the prospects of extending into early 2021 depending on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic threat.
He said the completion of the current year and start of the new academic year would be aligned with the plans of the Department of Basic Education in terms of the completion cycle of the National Senior Certificate (NSC) examinations, and the release of the NSC results.
“As a result of highly uncertain and fluid social context imposed by the viral threat on every aspect of South African society, it is not possible to determine with any measure of certainty the dates when physical return to campuses for the bulk of our students will be possible,” Nzimande said.
PLANNING FOR TVET COLLEGES
Nzimande said the 2020 academic year would also be restructured in line with the continuity of the lockdown under Level Four (4) national protocols.
“This entails the need to restructure national examinations for the trimester, semester and full-year programmes.”
Nzimande said TVET colleges would have to reorganise the academic year to enable students to complete trimesters one and two for engineering studies, both semesters for business studies, and the full- year NC(V) programmes.
“Trimester three, which should have taken place from August to November 2020, will be deferred to a date to be determined after consultation with stakeholders. This is to ensure that students are adequately prepared for the examinations.”
COLLEGE HOLIDAYS TO BE REDUCED
According to the Department of Higher Education, in attempts to recoup the number of days lost during lockdown, the number of college holidays would be reduced for June and September 2020.
Nzimande further explained: “In this regard, a revised academic calendar will be issued to CET Colleges indicating the increased number of tuition days. We will engage with organised labour in the implementation of these measures.
“Given that the majority of centres operate from schools, our CET academic calendar will be aligned with that of Department of Basic Education.”
Nzimande said he had issued directive to all sector education and training authorities to continue with the payment of learner stipends during the nationwide lockdown period.
ALMOST 18K HEALTHCARE WORKERS TRAINED
Nzimande said that government has set aside for the training for 17,750 frontline health workers, the leadership and membership of trade unions, the shop stewards and other workers who are dealing with Occupational Safety and Health (OSH), within the context of COVID-19.
“The training will also cover workers on night duty. In addition, and working with the Department of Social Development, 1,210 unemployed social workers will be recruited and placed on a 12-month internship, to work with our communities to tackle social distress and other psycho-social challenges facing households and communities during this difficult period.”
With continued uncertainty around the reopening of schools amid the COVID-19 lockdown, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga and Nzimande were addressing the nation on Thursday.
Teacher organisation and unions are hoping Motshekga will present a concrete plan that will inspire confidence and ensure all schools are equipped before any learning and teaching can resume.
The department presented a tentative plan in Parliament on Wednesday that may see schools reopen from as early as next month.
Nzimande has made it unequivocally clear that it is his aim to save the academic year, but not at the expense of lives. It’s for this very reason that he announced on Thursday that South Africa’s students will not be returning to campus.
Nzimande said that his department would be implementing a risk-adjusted programme, and decided not to resume with campus-based academic activity, including all universities and TVET colleges. “The only exception will be controlled return of mainly medical students who will return under strict conditions,” he added.
The risks of returning to normal campus are simply too great and cannot function successfully, he claimed. “To be specific, our formal institution are made up of 2.5m students. Universities do not operate in a vacuum,” Nzimande claimed.
With the endorsement of the command council, it was decided that the current period from May 1 until SA moves into lower levels, tertiary institutions will use the period to put critical interventions in place.
Nzimande assured the country that he is also securing possible relief, stimulus or emergency funding for public institutions in distress.