Higher education makes strides in screening for COVID-19

Staff Writer
By Staff Writer, ITWeb
Johannesburg, 10 Jul 2020

The higher education, science and innovation ministry’s COVID-19 assessment tool, HealthCheck, has screened over 600 000 students and staff in the post-school education and training (PSET) system.

This is according to Dr Blade Nzimande, minister of higher education, science and innovation, providing an update on the measures to deal with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic within the PSET sector.

HealthCheck is a risk assessment tool used by students and staff entering campuses to self-check their body temperature daily using a cellphone.

The tool, launched by the department’s Higher Health division, allows for early detection, mapping and management of COVID-19 cases within higher education institutions and feeds into the national Department of Health tracking and tracing system.

It was introduced in light of the reopening of campuses, with more students and staff members making their return.

Nzimande revealed that students and staff across the PSET system are accessing the daily risk assessment tool via Web, WhatsApp or USSD for screening purposes.

Based on the answers entered on the platform, the person receives a message with a low, moderate or high level risk reading. If the risk is low, the individual will receive clearance valid for 24 hours, he said.

“From this data, the overwhelming majority fall into the ‘low risk’ category (about 95%),” stated Nzimande. “The 5% that fell within the moderate to high risk as per the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) or Department of Health algorithm were immediately placed in self-isolation.”

“Age-wise, about 80% fall into the largest age bracket (18-40 years), followed by a fifth that are between 40 and 65. So it’s imperative that as a department, led by Higher Health, in collaboration with the Department of Health, NICD, World Health Organisation and other stakeholders, continue with programmes and innovative measures as part of our ongoing effort to support the PSET institutions’ response to COVID-19.”

For those who cannot screen through HealthCheck, Nzimande said screening stations have been placed close to entrances, using paperless, digital platforms, at every campus.

Meanwhile, Nzimande also indicated there are 592 educational sites that are zero-rated, to support multi-modal teaching and learning in higher education.

“Most universities have already negotiated free data bundles with mobile network operators (MNOs) to pay for additional content that is not covered through the zero-rating.

“We have negotiated with all MNOs very favourable rates for our National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) and Funza Lushaka students for 10GB daytime and 20GB night time data for three months.

“I have received very positive reports from institutions on the uptake and application of these bundles. However, I urge MNOs to fast-track these bundles to students,” Nzimande said.

The minister reiterated that mobile data must be used for dedicated online educational platforms for teaching and learning, as approved by institutions.

“We have also made free digital content available to specifically our TVET college students through our Higher Education and Training Web site, the National Open Learning System of the department, institutional Web sites and other sites, where students can find digital materials to access, to assist them in their learning and preparation for exams,” Nzimande said.