Finding a solution for students
Qondile Khedama is a communications practitioner and Founder of the Bram Fischer Foundation. He writes in his personal capacity
AMID one of the strongest ever campaigns (#FeesMustFall) waged through social media platforms in South Africa, many questions are still left unanswered despite the nearing resumption of the academic year.
Most universities have announced an 8 percent increase in fees for the 2017 academic year.
This announcement was made following the statement made earlier by Higher Education Minister Dr Blade Nzimande that individual universities can determine percentages they increase fees by, capped at a maximum of 8 percent and that for some categories of needy students there will be no increase.
The unfortunate thing is that this increase lands during quite a volatile environment in institutions of higher learning.
This could flare up the already tense situation.
It was also interesting to see the #FeesMustFall campaign manifesting itself into multiple facets.
Among others we saw it bringing afore an old debate of decolonisation of education onto the centre stage and it at the same time elevated the radical young female activists and across racial lines and reminding us of the generation of 1976 Student uprising that ultimately changed the socio-political landscape in South Africa.
Leigh-Ann Naidoo does acknowledge this in her piece “Contemporary Student Politics in South Africa” in a book titled Students Must Rise that there was a significant change in thinking about education and society from 1969 onwards, when Saso (South African Students Organisation) stopped fighting for ‘’equality’’ in education, or education equal to white education, and started criticising white, privileged education as a domesticating or dominating education.
This is an indication that discontent among black South Africans has been brewing for years.
During the #FeesMustFall protests you could hear students questioning the 1994 project. Asking questions such as: what was achieved? What is still outstanding, did we expedite the real needs of students post 1994, the change that took place after the new dispensation was it merely cosmetic, just opening doors of higher learning to people of previously disadvantaged backgrounds without taking into consideration the socio- economic needs of these individuals? These have been dominating questions in the material generated during the #FeesMustFall activities.
Clearly, there is an urgent need for a meaningful community engagement.
It is the duty of the caring community to build ongoing, permanent relations with the purpose of building a culture of intergenerational dialogue. Just like during the times of the struggle against apartheid, sustainable community based structures have to be built that focus particularly on all levels of education.
It cannot be that we build structures such as community policing forums and yet we ignore important sectors such as education in a developmental state like ours.
Pre-1994 most people from disadvantaged communities depended on long distance learning to develop themselves and it is a model that Unisa has mastered and continues to do in a technologically driven era.
This brings me back to the question: do we need warm bodies attending lectures under the roofs of universities or the same quality of education can be delivered via other technological means like e-learning which can provide a more affordable alternative to those who are finding the cost of attending institutions of higher learning unaffordable as accommodation, meals, security, overcrowding, and general expenses would be eliminated.
Advanced technology has changed the approach in tuition and course delivery. Research shows blended instruction could offer advantages to institutions of higher learning and student bodies. It is time our knowledge industry is made convenient and accessible to the needy.
It is high time government and role players within the education sector explore other options such as e-learning especially to school learners who have an interest to further their education in institutions of higher learning.
While we are waiting for the outcomes of the Presidential Commission and other initiatives undertaken to quell the situation, we cannot as a society fold our arms.
We need to encourage dialogues among stakeholders within the Higher Education sector, and these dialogues should be embedded within our communities since institutions of higher learning exist within our communities. Transformation of education is everybody’s business.
STRIFE: Ongoing running battles erupted at Wits campus when police retaliated with stun grenades and fired rubber bullets when #FeesMustFall students threw rocks at the police and hired security.