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Roll-out of data, laptops to students to implement online teaching and learning

As the University of KwaZulu-Natal, we are pleased to announce that we have made headway in the commencement of our delivery of online teaching and learning to all our students countrywide.

We have rolled out free data bundles to all our students to enable the successful implementation of our online teaching and learning strategy. In addition, the delivery of free laptops for first-year NSFAS students has also begun.

This is a fulfilment of our mandate to the transformation agenda by providing access to higher education. We are committed to ensuring that no student will be left behind in our effort to provide online learning.

This was made possible after we successfully reached agreements with mobile network operators for the zero rating of key Web sites that are hosted within UKZN's network. The zero rating of Web sites across all networks has been extended to include other online resources.

The outbreak of COVID-19 has led to the declaration of a national state of emergency and announcement of a lockdown with a huge impact on the academic project at the university. The interventions we have embarked on include alternative means of tuition involving mainly blended learning, with learning content made available to all students by means of online and offline learning, to also accommodate students who don't have access to the Internet.

Offline learning includes preloaded flash drives, laptops and/or paper-based interactive learning content. UKZN is committed to providing full support to enable students to continue to learn and complete the academic year, and to empower our staff to deliver quality education to our students. Consequently, we have finalised moving of the academic content of our courses onto virtual platforms so that the maximum benefit for students and staff is realised - staff can deliver on their mandates while students can progress academically.

The remote online teaching and learning trial also known as the dry-run is currently being performed to test the technology systems and online academic arrangements for readiness, and to determine connectivity, functionality and type of device used, test access through logins to system resources, learning materials and live learning activities. The dry-run also tests downloads and uploads by students and staff, and administers monitoring and evaluation questionnaire surveys for students and staff.

A survey was undertaken to assess the training needs of teaching staff with regard to the use of online teaching and learning tools. The results of this survey assisted in supporting staff further with their training needs and capacitating them to offer efficient and effective service to all students. Training sessions were conducted to enable academics to use various modes of online teaching methods to deliver content.

On finalisation and completion of other logistical arrangements, the university will communicate a date for the official commencement of online teaching and learning for our students in the coming weeks.

We are excited about this achievement - and applaud our colleagues who have worked tirelessly in our endeavour to ensure that online teaching and learning becomes a reality at UKZN.