HIGHER EDUCATION

Level 3: Students returning to campus to undergo quick daily screening

By Karabo Mafolo 24 May 2020
Caption
Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande. (Photo: Flickr / GCIS)

When the country moves to lockdown Level 3, 33% of the student population will be able to return to campus. However, daily Covid-19 screenings will be required to be taken by students and staff members, and an app has been developed to screen those going back to institutions of higher education.

Karabo Mafolo

Under Level 4, final year medical students were allowed to go back to campus to do their clinical training. Now, as the country is set to move to Level 3 from next month, more students will be able to return to  campuses. 

“Under Level 3, a maximum of 33% of the student population will be allowed to return to campuses, delivery sites and residences on condition that they can be safely accommodated and supported in line with the health and safety protocols as directed by the department,” said Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology Blade Nzimande at a press briefing on Saturday, 23 May 2020. 

Those who will be on campus under Level 3 will be the medical students who started returning to campus earlier in the month, final year students and postgraduate students who require access to laboratories and technical equipment, and students in any year of study who need to do clinical training. 

In addition to this, institutions may also consider students who may need to return to residences because of the “extreme difficulties in their home learning environments,” said Nzimande.

Students who had left their private accommodation when the lockdown began in March 2020 may also return under Level 3.

The date for returning to campus and beginning contact learning is Monday, 1 June 2020. However, Nzimande said that institutions would be given two to three weeks to prepare for the resumption of contact learning for those students. 

All those returning to campus will need to adhere to health and safety regulations such as physical distancing and daily screenings.

To ensure that institutions are supported in doing this, Higher Health, an agency under the department that focuses on student’s physical and mental health, has developed a digital screening and mapping tool.

“We’re working with every institution to ensure that every student and staff [member] has access to it. The results come back within one-and-a-half minutes of doing it. Once that’s done, it will let you know whether you’re low-risk, medium-risk or high-risk,” said Ramneek Ahluwalia, chief executive officer of Higher Health. 

The screening and mapping tool, Health Check, is available on smartphones and laptops via Higher Health’s website.

Once students and staff members have received their results, they will need to show that they’ve taken the test. A daily barcode will be generated and sent to those who test negative for Covid-19. 

Screening will be done once a day.

Those who are classified as moderate and high risk will be entered into the national health department’s tracking and tracing process. 

Currently, the app is only available in five languages, but there is work being done to provide it in all 11 official languages, said Ahluwalia. 

In each residence, there will be a  Covid-19 response team that has screening volunteers. The screening teams will need to ensure that everyone in the residence is screened daily and those who display symptoms should self-isolate in their rooms, and be referred for testing.  

Additionally, “institutions need to consider that each lecture, tutorial or practical starts with a coordinated process of assessing if anyone present has symptoms of Covid-19,” said Ahluwalia.

Alternatively, screening stations will be set up at campus entrance points. This will be done by Higher Health and institutions, and will have student and staff volunteers to assist at the screening stations. Volunteers will receive training from Higher Health. 

Mass screening will be available at institutions for students who will not be able to make use of the app at home, or who don’t have devices to access it, said Ahluwalia. 

For the screening stations, institutions will need to establish Covid-19 task teams led by a senior management official who will be supported by Higher Health support staff. 

Those who don’t show symptoms will be allowed to enter campus. Whereas those who do show symptoms will be advised to self-isolate either at home or at the quarantine facilities. They will then be referred to testing centres for Covid-19. 

Nzimande emphasised, as he has done before, that all these measures will be done to ensure that the academic year is saved – as well as lives. “Our theme is to save the academic year while saving lives,” said Nzimande. 

When asked whether the money already paid for residences would be carried over to the next academic year since students are at home, the deputy minister, Buti Manamela, said: “People think we’ve lost the academic year, but we haven’t. That money will be used as though it were a normal academic year.”

While remote learning resumed for some institutions in April 2020, universities loaned students laptops and gave them data which Nzimande commended. 

Stellenbosch University identified 800 students who needed support for remote learning. The university then bought 1,500 laptops and has given them to students on loan.

The University of Cape Town conducted a survey in April, which found that of the 90.4% of students who had completed the survey, 89.5% have access to a laptop/desktop, while 1.3% had no device.

UCT has identified those who need laptops and has loaned them to students. 

This survey was criticised by UCT’s Black Academic Caucus as “it did not interrogate deeper issues surrounding students’ circumstances such as quiet learning space, infrastructure and other essential resources necessary for online learning”.

“Uneven access to online technologies is but one aspect of an array of inequalities, whether data is zero-rated, or students are given laptops and data,” wrote UCT’s Black Academic Caucus. 

Mobile operators agreed to zero-rate educational websites, which means that “access to institutional websites will be free, although some of the embedded content like YouTube and videos will be charged for,” said Nzimande.

Nzimande said the department had “successfully negotiated with all mobile operators favourable rates,” for NSFAS and Funza Lushaka students who will receive 10GB daytime data and 20GB night time for three months starting from 1 June 2020. 

NSFAS and Funza Lushaka students must register their number with their respective institutions and mustn’t change their sim cards to enable networks to load data on their devices. This data must be used on dedicated educational content as approved by institutions, said Nzimande.

Nzimande implored students “not to use [the data] for the wrong things”.

Prior to this announcement, institutions had already started sending their students data. Earlier in the month, the University of the Western Cape, for instance, announced that they would be providing 10GB day time and 20GB night time data for students who had indicated that they needed it via a questionnaire. “However, we will only supply the data for three months, effective from 1 May 2020,” reads the statement. 

As the lockdown is eased and contact learning resumes, 66% of the student population will be allowed to return to campus under Level 2.

Under Level 1, 100% of the student population will be allowed to return. DM 

 

Click here to access Higher Health’s digital screening and mapping tool or dial *134*832*2# or add this number on Whatsapp 0600 11 0 000.

 

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