Studying at a tertiary education institution as we know it has changed, and whether these changes will have a permanent effect on the way education is approached is still to be determined
On 26 March 2020, a national lockdown was implemented in South Africa in an attempt to curb the spread of the notorious coronavirus. The lockdown has effected people all over the country in numerous ways, including students who are studying towards undergraduate qualifications, the Certificate in the Theory of Accounting (CTA), the Initial Test of Competence (ITC), or the Assessment of Professional Competence (APC).
The digital world of new age studies
As per the national lockdown regulations, students are no longer permitted to attend class at their enrolled institutions and now may receive their lectures online. These institutions have adapted to online learning platforms where lectures are provided − whether these are pre-recorded lectures or live lectures depends on the institution and student participation.
Recorded lessons do not only allow students to attend lectures in their own time but also help them in that they can refer back to their recorded lessons and identify an area in which they require further assistance. This improves their efficiency in studying and retaining information.
Breaching the digital divide
Although technological advances allow students to attend online classes, there are economic constraints on students who do not have Internet or computer access. There is a digital divide in South Africa’s population which is not only based on network access but is also highlighted by people’s access to computer hardware.
The University of Cape Town was the first institution to grant their students free access to data to attend classes online, thereby extending a helping hand to students in less fortunate situations. Institutions such as Unisa have entered into contracts with network providers such as MTN, Cell C, Telkom and Vodacom to allow their students data-free access to their websites and student portals.
During April of each year, Unisa would hold their first ‘study school’ week enabling students to attend lectures on five CTA subjects at Unisa campuses. Participation in these classes was lacking before, as most Unisa students do not have the financial means to visit a campus or are working and cannot attend classes during working hours. Unisa has now released online lectures enabling all their students to attend these lectures.
Although some students may still not have access to computers, they do have access to smartphones or someone who has a compatible device with applications that allow you to open PDF, PowerPoint, and Excel folders and allow you to view videos on the device.
A broader perspective
I performed a survey among my peers, CTA students preparing for their second tests through Unisa, to determine how the digital divide among students would influence their ability to participate in the online alternative assessment. 422 students from diverse backgrounds across the country participated in the survey, and the results were not what I expected.
These were the questions posed:
|I have a computer at the place I am residing, and I will be able to write the test||32%|
|I do not have access to a computer where I am residing, and I will use my phone to write the test||12%|
|I do not have Internet access to download and upload the question papers and answers||5%|
|I will not be able to write the test||5%|
The above made up 54% of the participants’ responses and it was clear that 10% of the population who participated did not have the means to write the upcoming test.
As for the remaining 46% of the population’s responses, this is where it gets interesting. A participant added their own category to the survey: ‘I can write at home; however, I do not have a printer.’ When I set up the survey, it did cross my mind that some students would want to print their questions, but I did not deem this an essential requirement, as you could split your screen to read the information while writing your test.
The student’s insistence on requiring a printer to write the test made me wonder whether we are not sometimes the creators of our own hurdles in our academic pursuit. Instead of looking at what we do have available or what plan we could make to help us, we focus on what we do not have instead.
Considering that the test could be taken without a printer, the results of the survey indicated that 78% of the students did have the means to write their tests whether through the use of a computer or a cell phone. It thus became evident that we often imagine the digital divide in South Africa to be greater than it actually is.
Today’s students, whether they are undergraduate, postgraduate or writing their tests of competence, have now been given the opportunity to utilise technology to support their studies more efficiently. Although the use of technology by educational institutions and students still needs to be developed, it represents a new era of studying which can lead to greater educational success and have a far-reaching effect on the access to education.
Rather than using this as a temporary solution to a pandemic, we should consider how we can make it a permanent solution to other questions facing education today.
AUTHOR │ Chantal Potgieter AGSA, Registered Tax Practitioner, BComp Acc Science, Audit Supervisor at Diastoleus Professio Incorporated.