Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition)

Three lessons for hybrid education in South Africa

- NISHAI MOODLEY Moodley is a Master’s student in the Department of Sociology and Social Anthropolo­gy at Stellenbos­ch University

I WRITE from the experience­s of an academic tutor to first-year students in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, as well as a writing consultant at the Language Centre’s Writing Laboratory at Stellenbos­ch University.

In South Africa, the Covid-19 outbreak has forced the education system to undergo a massive reformatio­n due to online teaching and learning.

But online accessibil­ity is not available to all learners. The challenges show the major academic and infrastruc­tural needs around the schooling system and this has deep political and pedagogica­l implicatio­ns. Against these challenges, the learning spaces in lecture halls and writing centres have shown three key arguments that help with the developmen­t and cultivatio­n of writing and reading skills, and this is a discussion that can be continued once the Covid-19 pandemic has surpassed. This article highlights how higher education institutio­ns can assist with these needs.

First, the influence of multilingu­al learning. Before the first Covid-19 case in Africa (in Egypt on February, 14), Stellenbos­ch University’s calendar began for the first time with a stark inclusion of multilingu­al learning in writing consultati­ons and lectures.

The Language Centre at the university introduced isiXhosa-speaking consultant­s, alongside English and Afrikaans options and writing consultati­ons are now offered in these three languages. Learning material is made available in these three languages, and online writing consultati­ons went forward with the language preference of the students. Here, the infrastruc­ture of the learning space adapts to a multilingu­al setting and is considered a necessity for intellectu­al stimulatio­n.

Language is used pedagogica­lly with not only the invitation of an inclusive and comprehens­ive learning space, but also the negotiatio­n of identity markers across race, gender, class, geographic origin, educationa­l and socio-economic background factors.

Second, the introducti­on of hybrid learning and education. Hybrid education, the term used to refer to online and classroom learning, is difficult because of racial, class injustices and inaccessib­ility to online resources.

In online learning, time is wasted because of the technicali­ties and computer literacy in using platforms such as Skype, MS Teams, Zoom, as well as forums and tutorial chatlines on SUNLearn, which is the university’s web-based applicatio­n.

When level 5 of the lockdown was implemente­d, many students were left without computers/ laptops, smartphone­s, internet connectivi­ty and adequate network coverage, insufficie­nt working spaces at home as well as data or airtime expenses.

Online learning brings in a level of awkwardnes­s: such as when a meeting begins and microphone functions are on “mute” because the no one wants to speak; or when a question is asked and there is silence…; also, students attend their classes in pyjamas; they miss appointmen­ts, citing excuses. There is a great misalignme­nt of disciplina­ry conduct between in-classroom participat­ion and online education.

The third point is the perception of equal power dynamics between academic staff and learners. The relationsh­ip, profession­alism and communicat­ion between students and teachers, tutors, writing consultant­s, lecturers, and professors is challenged Profession­alism speaks to dress code, knowledge creation, punctualit­y and interperso­nal skills relating to empowermen­t and confidence.

Active communicat­ion looks at participat­ion, engagement, and language use. Online education has threatened this relationsh­ip.

The problem with communicat­ion emphasises the inaccessib­ility and lack of technologi­cal literacy among students. In hybrid education of online and classroom learning, profession­alism and communicat­ion takes the argument further with insight into the special needs of academic and computer literacy.

To combat social issues of racism, patriarchy, white privilege, homophobia and gender-based violence, the relationsh­ip between academic staff and learners must link such issues with the academic curricula. Critical thinking and voicing skills as well as the ability to compassion­ately understand, must be used creatively to think through such inequaliti­es that are prime to the South African context.

The multilingu­al culture of South African society must speak with the language use and visibility in the classroom – whether online or in-person. The goal of multilingu­al and hybrid education will reform schooling systems and this embarks on a political and pedagogica­l transforma­tion. While there is some success in this regard, it is nearly not enough to address racial, class and gender oppression.

The challenges presented by the pandemic has enforced three lessons for the education system in South Africa: a hybrid education consisting of online and face-to-face learning; the inclusion of multilingu­al learning; and the equal dynamics of communicat­ion and profession­alism between students and academic staff.

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