By Sara Lagardien Abdullah
This article is exclusive to the Online Edition 4 of VARSITY News.
The University of Cape Town (UCT), along with other tertiary institutions across South Africa has made what they purport to be a collective decision to continue with the academic programme in the name of saving the academic year. Whilst the move to learning online through what UCT has termed ‘Emergency Remote Teaching’ (ERT) appears to be a decision made in good faith, many have criticised the university’s decision as being unilateral – negating the nuanced circumstances that students are faced with, coupled with the lack of access to the necessary resources to meaningfully engage with ERT.
Concerns around UCT’s decision to move to Emergency Remote Teaching has rightfully left its community to believe that the decision was rushed and unconsidered and has been met with academics voicing their apprehension about continuing with the academic programme. The Black Academic Caucus, driven by its investment in the decolonisation and transformation of higher education in South Africa, is a platform that seeks to prioritise black academics and their knowledge. The Black Academic Caucus have expressed that the continuation of the academic programme under unequal conditions needs to be contested, however, their concerns have not been met with substantive debate.
Dr. Lwazi Lushaba’s On the Politics of Online Learning has also added momentum to the polarising conversation on Emergency Remote Teaching asserting the anti-Black nature of UCT’s decision which he believes entrenches the inherited and present injustices that Black people across South Africa are faced with. Being a strong opponent of ERT, Dr. Lushaba highlights the importance of engaging in this historical moment meaningfully. “Mobilise students and academics in different fields of knowledge to lend their skills in an inclusive societal response to the pandemic ostensibly designed to foster a spirit of sacrifice,” writes Dr. Lushaba – a stance that supports that of Public Universities with a Public Conscience: A Proposed Plan for a Social Pedagogy Alternative in the Time of Pandemic drafted by concerned academics in South Africa. The document, endorsed by academics and students across South Africa, proposes an alternative pedagogy – a social pedagogy that is sensitive to the realities of our present and is engaged in a pedagogical practice that is invested in an equitable and socially relevant future in academia.
In the initial days of Covid-19’s presence in South Africa, UCT sent out a survey in the hopes of being able to gauge students’ circumstances, however this survey did not consider the nuanced nature of individuals’ circumstances – some of which include declining mental health, domestic abuse and the burden of gendered reproductive labour. UCT has continued with the academic programme with the assumption that its community is sufficiently prepared and resourced to continue with the academic programme. Whilst students have also voiced their concerns through the University’s Students’ Representative Council (SRC) body – calling for the extension of the Online Orientation Week, their grievances have been blocked by management and therefore could not be tabled for debate.
While UCT continues with the academic programme, seemingly oblivious to the realities that its community faces in conjunction with an already destabilising global pandemic, it is imperative that we remain steadfast in our pursuit of an institution that is not only socially engaged and relevant, but responsive too.