Online Learning: Privilege or Necessity?

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By Connor McLaughlin

This article is exclusive to the Online Edition 2 of VARSITY News.


Heading into week three of UCT’s semi-planned vacation and the question lingering on students’ minds is how we’re finishing this semester? Students and academics alike have scrambled to figure out the next step in how we continue our curriculum, with online learning being the go-to. Met with praise and anguish, the idea of studying online brings many advantages and equally many challenges – sometimes challenges that are much tougher than expected. Let’s break it down.


From a practical perspective, learning from home is a dream. You set your own working hours, work at your own pace and have the ability to isolate yourself to work in a peaceful environment. Your lectures are recorded to view at your leisure, your only concern is handing in an assignment and tutorial groups are now enjoyed in a pair of sweatpants. However, in realistic terms, especially in the reality of South Africa, this is not the case for a massive part of UCT’s community.


The most cumbersome obstacle many will initially face is that of access to data and technology. With the high cost to get connected and the fact that many NSFAS students are still awaiting their laptops, many students simply cannot continue their studies at home, which has now also been turned into a shared workspace. While for some this is a minor inconvenience, for many it brings a range of domestic issues into the work environment. Abusive partners, family responsibilities and the dual identity of parenting and studying is a harsh and terrifying reality many students face now that they find themselves living and working in the same space.


Students with disabilities face further difficulties should they not live in an accessible environment. To add to that list, the pressure of ensuring an income to support your household and studies during this lockdown and the expectation of being able to efficiently continue your degree becomes ever so unrealistic for some students.


At present all decisions are reactionary and with each decision UCT takes it will be wrought with problems and challenges but the fact remains that the future of many students’ academic years sits in a survey to understand the challenges faced by students and the measures they have the ability to implement and those they simply cannot. Simply put, the only offering at this time caters to those who are privileged enough to learn via correspondence and this offering may possibly exclude the vast majority– should UCT fail to address these challenges.



This section of VARSITY is a vehicle for expression on any topic by members of the UCT community. The opinions within this section are not necessarily those of the VARSITY collective or its advertisers.

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