The teaching will primarily be online.
SOL PLAATJE University will offer its students teaching and learning through a “blended mode” which will primarily be online.
In a letter to the university community, Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Andrew Crouch, said that the senate, at a special meeting on Tuesday, had discussed the academic implications of the nationwide lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as assessed the university’s readiness to offer teaching and learning through a blended mode.
“Over the last few weeks the university and the higher education sector have had to overcome numerous challenges arising from the national lockdown,” Crouch said. “At Sol Plaatje University, dedicated staff have worked under difficult circumstances to keep the university operational, and essential service and administrative staff received special permits to perform their duties on campus.”
He added that during this time, the academic staff had also been engaged in preparations to begin offering students a blended mode of teaching and learning which would primarily be online.
“It is envisaged that we will commence with the academic programme from May 4, for a period of two to three months.”
The senate also approved an amendment to the academic calendar on Tuesday.
“Depending on when the national restrictions around travel and gatherings will be lifted, students could return to the university during the second semester,” Crouch said.
The exact date when this will happen will be communicated to students.
“We will need a complete restructuring of the second semester to allow for completion of the academic year,” he stated further.
“In addition, we will have to implement a phased return of students to the university by giving priority to those who have experiential learning requirements and to senior students in their final year of study.”
The university’s staff will return to work on campus as soon as there is certainty that the national lockdown restrictions are lifted and it is safe to do so in terms of health and safety regulations. “The exact date will be dependent on changes in the national landscape.”
According to Crouch, the return of service providers, such as contractors, still needs to be determined and is subject to national regulations.
“The higher education sector as a whole will be providing online teaching and learning in formats that work for individual universities. These measures are therefore not unique to Sol Plaatje University nor are the challenges associated with its success.
“As a new university that started just seven years ago we are capacitated enough to have prepared, in a short space of time, for this transition.
“However, we are in largely uncharted territory here so we will have to adapt our methods and strategies as we progress. I am counting on our combined efforts to provide a teaching and learning experience to our students that is both of a high quality and is equitable.”
In response to specific questions, SPU spokesperson Kashini Maistry pointed out that all the university’s students were issued with laptops in their first year of study. “We are in discussions with cellular service providers about having access to our websites zero-rated. At present we have one provider on board. Universities South Africa (USAf) is also in discussions with the various cellular service providers for zero-rated access to higher education institutions’ websites.”
She added that while the university would begin its blended mode of teaching and learning on May 4, that first week would be dedicated to orienting students on how to use this new mode.
Kaistry added that there had been ongoing consultations with the student representative council (SRC). “Our Vice-Chancellor and Principal has also been in direct contact with the acting president of the SRC.”
All the university’s students returned to their homes prior to the commencement of the national lockdown.