Find­ing a so­lu­tion for stu­dents

The Star Early Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS -

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.

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