Keeping teaching and assessment “data-lite” shows the kind of capitalist kindness we had all been hoping for, for decades. This generosity could have solved many educational issues in South Africa and we may already have been steps ahead towards a socially just society. I have fulltime employment and fall within the top 5% (probably) of people earning over R500 000 per annum. Yet, the rate at which my two student children use data for their studies and entertainment amazes me and I do not know how students with much more limited funding keep up. 

But now with COVID-19, data is free for students needing to access learning, teaching and assessment online. With ease, all students have the opportunity of being equally successful, even in these uncertain times and choose, like me right now, to sit up behind their laptops at 03h00, working on their theses, dissertations, assignments, group-tasks, quizzes, etc. 

Yet, here is a reality check. On Monday, my 5th year medical student son, who is volunteering at a state hospital, had to take an Uber to do some shopping. As usual, he struck up a conversation with the driver. The driver told him that he is the sole breadwinner, holding two jobs to support his wife and daughter. His wife is a Master’s student currently working on her research thesis and his daughter is enrolled in a private high school so that she may have the best opportunity to get into university. With “lockdown” however, both of his jobs will come to a halt. Their rent is overdue and if he does not pay by the month end, they will be living in this car. He hopes to scrape together enough money (and time before lockdown) to pay the rent and buy some food for this period. He tells my son that he hopes he can do that before his daughter’s school deducts her school fees. 

My son, being relatively privileged and immature about financial issues, does not tell the driver, as I would have, to immediately stop at the bank and withdraw his funds before the school fees debit order goes off. Roof and food are priority. I know that the school may most likely deduct their fees before lockdown and this family will huddling together in a car with no space to breathe, never mind study. I know, from experience as an unemployed mother (own choice) with two kids in high-fee schools, that the school fee issue can always be sorted out after the crisis. Finance persons at these schools can be scary with sms’s, calls and emails, but I would go there post-crisis, look the finance women in the eye and ask for receipts as I paid off R2000 arrears R200 per month. This Master’s student could very well be your student or mine. 

So thank you very much for “data-lite” and “data-free” as institutions try to keep Core Business Plans (CBP) going. The concern not included in these plans is that our students’ parents will lose their jobs, homes, meals in this lockdown period. Laptops and smartphones, which would give them access to our websites, will be sold to cover basic needs. Can we discuss how we cannot deal with this post- crisis? How are we going to keep hope alive in our pedagogy for our undergraduates and post- graduates? What message are we going to send to those students how they will be accommodated when we get “back to normal” when their normal was never ours? 

Jean Lee Farmer
Advisor: Higher Education Centre for Teaching and Learning Division Learning and Teaching Enhancement Stellenbosch University