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Wits, UJ offer students 30GB data bundle to study online

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The University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) and University of Johannesburg (UJ) are offering their students 30GB of data to use for online learning.

Both universities began offering online classes today.

The country has seen a surge in online learning since it was placed under lockdown last month. On 15 March, president Cyril Ramaphosa announced measures to protect the country from the spread of COVID-19 and, as a result, school and university holidays were brought forward, impacting the learning schedule.

In an effort to assist learners, institutions of higher learning and telcos have stepped up efforts to ensure virtual learning is a reality during the nationwide lockdown.

Over the weekend, Wits told students it had signed a contract with MTN to provide 30GB of data (10GB Anytime and 20GB Night Express) at no cost to Wits students for one month, to kick-start their online learning journey.

The university signed a similar deal with Vodacom and urged students to port to the two service providers to benefit from the offer.

“If you are using an alternative service provider, you may wish to purchase a SIM card and then get yourself on to either the MTN or Vodacom network. Please bear in mind that you would then need to update your cell number on the self-service portal. Your new number will only be relayed to MTN and Vodacom on Monday,” read the statement.

On Sunday, UJ said it was navigating the shift in learning as effectively as possible.

“We are aware of the challenges, the inequities of access as well as the anxiety and uncertainty caused by this mode of teaching and learning. As a university, we are committed to closing these gaps to the best of our ability,” it said.

The university dismissed social media posts that had been circulated portraying its vice-chancellor and principal Professor Tshilidzi Marwala as uncaring and indifferent to the needs of poor and rural students.

“The university wishes to set the record straight that as it shifts to an online mode of teaching and learning from Monday, 20 April 2020, it is committed to ensuring all its students have access to the necessary devices and data. We are pleased to announce the university has invested significant financial resources to secure 30GB of data per student per month.

“It is worth noting that this year alone, we have distributed 1 750 laptops to qualifying first-year NSFAS students, and that we have a further 4 000 available to distribute. It is also worth noting that the university has issued 21 000 devices to qualifying students. We continue to work closely with telecommunications providers with the view to provide more data solutions to our students, so that they may perform their studies efficiently.”

This, the university said, demonstrates its commitment to ensuring none of its students are left behind, as it moves to online modes of teaching and learning.

“We realise that some of our students operate in environmental conditions that are not conducive to learning. For the next two weeks, there will be no formal assessments or assignments. Students will have the opportunity to catch up on assessments. The university will continue to engage with students as we roll out the online teaching and learning.”

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