We must help students empower themselves, NMU student dean says

NEW WORLD: NMU dean of students Luthando Jack
NEW WORLD: NMU dean of students Luthando Jack
Image: Supplied

Equip students to empower themselves.

That was the message from Nelson Mandela University dean of students Luthando Jack, who was speaking on Thursday during a Business 360 panel discussion on “The return to class and the socioeconomic impacts of the disruption to the school year”. 

Jack said the main message to take from the Covid-19 pandemic and resultant lockdown was that SA should get back to basics.

“The virus has reminded us of the centrality of health in our lives and we need to reprioritise education and health as the two most important areas to concentrate on.”

With almost every socioeconomic indicator showing up negative, it was the ideal time to do things differently, he said.

“We must stop interpreting the new world with old maps. We must unite around a social compact, a shared vision of the future.”

Jack said even the supply of laptops and data by the university to disadvantaged students did not completely bridge the digital divide as connectivity was often a problem.

But good progress was nevertheless being made, aided by the challenges they had already overcome during the fees must fall shutdown four years ago.

“The virus has tested our value system, our commitment to social justice. We realised we had to go on a journey with our staff and students to help them adapt, and we did.

“One of the priorities we have taken from the lock down is that we need to equip and activate each student to be the agent of their own empowerment.”

Business 360 was initiated as a collaboration between The Herald and Daily Dispatch and co-hosted by Stratstute MD Roshni Gajjar and organisation development constant Paolo Giuricich.

In his contribution to Thursday’s debate, Eastern Cape education department institutional operations management acting deputy director-general Soyisile Nuku said school and tertiary education systems needed to influence each other more than they were at present.

“We also need strong partnerships between tertiary education and business to advise what our students should be studying.”

Nuku said the situation with Eastern Cape schools was highly uneven but the department was resolving problems as they arose.

While some students had coped well with the transition to online teaching others had not or could not because they did not have access to a computer.

The department did not have sufficient funds to supply all these students with the necessary technology but materials had been produced to help them to learn at home, and now many were back at school.

“There has been anxiety and many teachers are not at school but substitute teachers have been brought in and safety measures are in place.”

Schools without water had been provided with water and laptops had been provided to all the matric pupils from disadvantages homes who were not back in the classroom, he said.

“We plan, we fix, we go.

“We are communicating with the parents to tell them to keep their child at home if they have a comorbidity.

“The bottom line is work must progress and there is no learner that is not learning.”

Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator key account manager Sue Hagemann said the possible “pathways” for youngsters in terms of education and jobs needed to be flagged more clearly.

“We also need more demand-led schooling and, while a degree is nice to have, we need a faster more accessible way that young people can signal their capabilities to prospective employers.

“Lastly, we need to keep young people right in the middle of this conversation,” Hagemann said.

Watch the full discussion here:

Return to school in South Africa and the socio-economic impact of disruptions to the academic year

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