South Africa was set upon by the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020, with Helderberg College of Higher Education only six and half weeks into the first semester. The ensuing national lock down brought about a crisis in the higher education sector, and the institution had to implement regulations as announced by the Department of Higher Education & Training (DHET) and the Council on Higher Education (CHE).
Classes were suspended and students returned to their homes, except for a small number who remained in the residences, among them international students. During lockdown Level 33 % of students could apply and were permitted to return to the college residences for the second semester according to the following criteria: final-year students, students with connectivity challenges, and students with adverse home study conditions. On their return to campus students had to complete a 14-day quarantine. Strict Covid-19 protocols for both students and staff were implemented and remain in force.
Emergency Remote Teaching (ERT) was immediately instituted, and lecturers had to source and make use of various online approaches to continue with teaching and assessment. Some of the platforms that have been utilized include: The HCHE Student Manager System (SMP), Google Classroom, Moodle, Zoom, emails, WhatsApp groups, audio PowerPoint presentations, and YouTube clips.
The College intentionally focused on a ‘No Student Left Behind’ approach to counteract the severe impact of Covid-19. To this end, a number of academic policy amendments were developed and implemented to address the realities and challenges that remote teaching, learning, and assessment brings. Some of these included decentralized summative assessment (flexible formats for final assessments); due date extensions; and second chance assignments and examinations. The 2020 Calendar of Events was amended to give students the chance to catch up with their class work after settling in at home and complete their formative assessment tasks and assignments, and to afford lecturers sufficient time to complete their syllabi.
It became evident that a number of students did not have devices to continue their studies from home. Many students experienced connectivity challenges, especially in some parts of the country, and lecturers worked with these students individually to find ways for them to send their assignments in and write their tests. To assist students, the college purchased laptops for those students who qualified according to certain criteria. Students are able to pay off the devices by means of a loan agreement. Adequate data was also a problem for some students. The Finance Department of the college approached MTN (cell phone network provider) and secured discounted student data packages which were loaded onto the students’ cell phones. Throughout the many challenges the Covid-19 crisis has brought, the college – through the dedication, commitment, and innovation of its lecturers – continued to provide quality education for its students in a supportive, caring, and personal manner. The academic year was successfully concluded by the completion of the second semester examinations, and the planned open-air Commencement Ceremony for the Class of 2020 on the 13th of December.
Helderberg College of Higher Education stands as an example of successful navigation of difficult times. For this we can only thank and praise the Lord.