Rhodes University in the Eastern Cape has welcomed the institution’s first group of returning students after months of no schooling on campus due to COVID-19.

The first group comprises of senior science and pharmacy students, those with disabilities and whose home environments are not conducive to quality learning. 

The institution says it has conducted all the necessary training to ensure the health and safety of the students amid the pandemic that has rocked the world.

More than 200 000 South Africans have contracted COVID-19 and 3 310 others have succumbed to illnesses related to the disease.

Rhodes Director of Communications Luzuko Jacobs says, “It has been quite a serious balancing act by the University to get to this point. On the one hand, we had to consider the health and safety of students and staff, and our surrounding community in Makhanda. But on the other hand, we had to consider the academic programme and the future of our students and livelihoods.”

“Our decisions were always guided by the three-pronged theme of the Department of Higher Education & Training – save lives, save the academic year and maximise opportunities for student success,” added Jacobs.

Jacobs says students who, by their conduct, place the well-being of others at risk may face exclusion from Rhodes University or from residences.

“Each one of us has a serious responsibility towards all those with whom we share spaces and facilities. Careless and reckless conduct will attract immediate reaction and stern consequences,” he concludes.

In April, the university launched an online orientation programme aimed at introducing students to online learning as part of efforts to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on learning. Accessing laptops for students who did not have them was one of its challenges.

Below is a provincial breakdown of COVID-19 statistics in SA:

 

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Government’s bid to save academic year

In June, Minister of Higher Education Blade Nzimande said the department remained committed to resuming the 2020 academic year, even though the country is still grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thousands of students from universities, TVET and private colleges have been affected by the outbreak which has claimed the lives of 3 310 people. Nzimande said reopening dates will be adjusted accordingly as institutions could not open on time due to strict lockdown regulations.

Nzimande also launched a tool to be used by students and staff daily for COVID-19 screening and testing prior to entering campuses.

The invention of the screening and testing tool is a joint venture with the Health Department and can be downloaded from cellphones and via Whatsapp.

“With high health checks, you can check yourself every day in the morning or anytime and press a button and that information will go to the database of the department of health. All students and staff, about 2 million of them, will be required to use it every day to access their own risk of health prior to entering campuses,” said Nzimande.

Nzimande added saying the resumption of academic activities, which is being done in phases, would be in line with the guidelines of the National COVID-19 Command Council and as approved by Parliament.

Reaction to Higher Education Minister’s media briefing: