Two Gold Medals in Specialist Physician Examinations for UKZN Graduate

Two Gold Medals in Specialist Physician Examinations for UKZN Graduate
Gold medalist physician, Dr Raeesa Bhorat.Click here for isiZulu version

UKZN’s Dr Raeesa Bhorat, a senior Registrar in the Department of Internal Medicine based at King Edward VIII Hospital in Durban, has been awarded two gold medals for outstanding achievement in the Fellowship of the College of Physicians (FCP) examinations - a first for a candidate from UKZN.

High achiever Bhorat took the top spot in the examinations written by candidates from all medical schools in South Africa as well as other African countries.

The Senate of the Colleges of Medicine of South Africa (CMSA), which oversees the examinations, awarded Bhorat the Suzman Medal 2019 and the Asher Dubb Medal 2019 for distinguished results in the FCP examinations.

The Head of Internal Medicine at UKZN, Professor Nombulelo Magula, was ecstatic about the news: ‘Internal Medicine is a complex discipline, made up of General Medicine and sub-specialties in Cardiology, Diabetes and Endocrinology, Gastroenterology, Geriatrics, Infectious Diseases, Nephrology, Pulmonology, and Rheumatology,’ said Magula. ‘The CMSA requires registrars to spend time in both General Medicine and sub-specialties of Internal Medicine which at UKZN are one of the most well developed in the country. Apart from the clinical experience at hospitals in Durban, Pietermaritzburg and Port Shepstone, our registrars are involved in an academic programme where they get to make presentations at a variety of meetings and forums at hospitals they work in and at an overall discipline level. Registrars also take part in academic meetings where specialists and sub-specialists present work for learning experiences by all registrars, specialists and sub-specialists,’ she said.

‘On behalf of the Discipline of Internal Medicine, I congratulate Raeesa for her sterling performance. She worked very hard and achieved despite challenges that come with the territory of training in this very complex discipline. We are exceedingly proud of her and wish her and all our registrars everything of the best,’ said Magula.

Durban-born Bhorat, who attended Crawford College in Durban, achieved eight distinctions making it onto the Independent Examination Board’s commendable list. She also received half senior colours for culture and leadership in Grade 12.

She won a full scholarship and chose UKZN to embark on studies for a Medical degree inspired by her father, Professor Ismail Bhorat, an internationally renowned subspecialist in foetal-maternal medicine, and her mother, Mrs Nazreen Bhorat.

‘My mom and dad inspired me to choose Medicine,’ said Bhorat. ‘In our home, we understood the value of learning and developed a respect for knowledge and the progressive, far reaching impact of Medicine. Through the actions, kindness and generosity of my parents towards other people, I am witness to indefatigable selflessness on a daily basis,’ said Bhorat. 

‘Medicine is wonderful and exciting, and something I have always wanted to be a part of, thanks to my parents and what they represent.’

Bhorat graduated cum laude with a Medical degree boasting distinctions in Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Internal Medicine and Integrated Surgical Practice. A member of the esteemed Golden Key International Honour Society at UKZN, she hopes to subspecialise in Cardiology.

Having completed the FCP examination, Bhorat will be eligible for a position as a specialist physician at the end of the year.

Apart from her passion for Medicine, she enjoys playing the piano, English literature, poetry and writing.

Words: Maryann Francis

Photograph: Supplied


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Helping Children Cope with Fears about COVID-19

Helping Children Cope with Fears about COVID-19
At a public webinar series were Professor Deevia Bhana, Professor Dipane Hlalele, Professor Jace Pillay and Dr Damien Tomaselli.Click here for isiZulu version

The College of Humanities recently hosted a public webinar series on the topic: Helping Children Cope with their Fears about COVID-19.

Chaired by Professor Deevia Bhana of UKZN, participants included academics Professor Dipane Hlalele of UKZN, Professor Jace Pillay of the University of Johannesburg and Dr Damien Tomaselli of Transmedia.

COVID-19 is here to stay for a long time - and so are our fears about it. But how do we help children cope with their fears? All children, of all ages, and in all countries are affected by existing socio-economic inequalities is exposed in this health crisis creating severe impact for many children.

The webinar was a small step in the direction of opening up a conversation about addressing the complexity of the problems in helping children cope with their fears about the disease. The main issues highlighted in the webinar focused on the crisis in learning, poverty, the significance of social institutions, including family, parents and teachers, and the need to address children’s safety, including their mental health well-being.

‘Children are active knowledge producers throughout the life course,’ said Bhana. ‘This means that facts about the disease should be raised with children in age-appropriate ways which are effective for their understanding of the virus. This has become more pronounced as schools re-open. Social distancing and a lack of awareness and knowledge may give rise to fears… of contagion, disease and stigma. We should be curious about what children have to say about their own fears in order to effectively respond,’ said Bhana. 

In his address, Hlalele explored “shifting learning spaces” and concomitant expectations for children to cope and adapt to the “new normal” without much orientation and support. ‘COVID-19 brought about a disruption in learning spaces and operations which children were familiar with. Children are expected to cope with the home as a learning space, parents/siblings/caregivers as stand-in teachers, and to navigate new ways of learning, including online learning platforms. The disruption requires homes to be both supportive and productive learning spaces,’ said Hlalele.

Pillay focused on anxieties, fears and stress experienced by children as a result of the virus and placed special focus on the mental health experiences of children at different ages and stages of development and age-appropriate knowledge that could mitigate the impact of the disease on children’s lives.

‘What we do know is that COVID-19 has drastically changed the lives of all people and children are no exception,’ said Pillay, who further emphasised how to identify, reassure, and listen to the fears, anxieties and stress experienced by children while providing some practical examples of what could be done to comfort children.

Tomaselli focused on helping children learn through visual storytelling enabled by new technologies. Based on an international partnership, he discussed a digital comic titled Don’t Panic, which is, he says, a must for any parent as it provides a simple easy explanation of the disease, the reason for the lockdown and how to cope with it, and general misinformation about the virus.

The panel reinforced the 2020 United National guidelines to provide knowledge, support and action for improving and transforming how we think about children. The health crisis presents opportunities for us all to ensure that children’s rights and safety are protected.

‘We have a shared responsibility to address children’s fears and this requires a multipronged approach that reinforces children, irrespective of age, as rights holders who think, know and feel. Adults, parents, teachers and communities are key to realising this obligation,’ said Bhana.

Words: Melissa Mungroo

Photograph: Supplied


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UKZN Indigenous Knowledge Expert Addresses International e-Forum

UKZN Indigenous Knowledge Expert Addresses International e-Forum
UKZN academic, Professor Fayth Ruffin.

An indigenous knowledge expert at UKZN - 2018 Distinguished Teachers’ Award holder and 2019 National Teaching Excellence Award recipient Professor Fayth Ruffin - represented the University at a virtual International Faculty Development Programme (IFDP) forum hosted by the Director of International Relations at Chandigarh University (CU) in India, Professor Rajan Sharma.

The IFDP is an annual gathering of academic experts from more than 20 institutions of Higher Education around the world who share best practice concepts in various fields, including agriculture, applied science, biotechnology, business management, civil engineering, education, and law.

Over the years the event has provided a great opportunity for networking, however, due to the COVID-19 pandemic the event was held on a virtual platform for the first time in four years.

Ruffin, who was requested to speak on International and Comparative Law, presented on the role of epistemologies inherent in indigenous law in creating global co-operative legal processes. She also discussed the importance of comparative indigenous law in understanding International Relations from its rudiments.

Ruffin explained International and Comparative Law in an historical and contemporary context, highlighting that Law, including International Law, was irreducible to state-centrism. She explored the interconnectedness between people, business, governance and territories along with public and private legal and justice affairs and conveyed epistemological distinctions between westernised law and indigenous law

She reviewed multiple levels of coloniality within the framework of the legal profession, law societies, law practice, legal education and westernised jurisprudence as a whole. She discussed the means of indigenising legal education in an inclusive and 21st century manner and also highlighted the role of empiricism and socio-legal studies in restructuring legal education curricula.

Members of the Law Faculty at CU said they found Ruffin’s presentation enlightening and engaged with her about the fact that the concept of divorce did not exist in Indian indigenous law but was introduced by the British legal system. They also asked why plea bargaining techniques that originated in the United States were not working in India and also how social constructions could be overcome.

Responding, Ruffin explored the varied distinctions between axiological approaches to law and justice and providing examples of how to make legal education more inclusive of plural ontologies, epistemologies and methodologies.

Sharma said he was grateful to Ruffin for sharing her expertise in indigenous knowledge as well as International and Comparative Law. ‘Please accept our sincere appreciation for the outstanding interactive session you made. It is really great inspiration and motivation to young faculty and research scholars,’ added Sharma.

Words: Hazel Langa

Photograph: Supplied


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Computer Science Academic Features in Facial Recognition Tech Discussion

Computer Science Academic Features in Facial Recognition Tech Discussion
Dr Brett van Niekerk, Senior Lecturer in the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science.Click here for isiZulu version

Senior Lecturer in the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science, Dr Brett van Niekerk was a member of a live online panel which discussed: The Future of Facial Recognition Tech in Africa.

Hosted by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), the panel was chaired by Senior ISS Research Advisor for Emerging Threats in Africa Ms Karen Allen; CEO of iiDENTIFii Mr Gur Geva, and Criminologist and AI consultant Ms Renee Cummings of the United States.

The discussion took place in the light of knowledge that facial recognition can be used for access control, but also by law enforcement to identify individuals. The reality is that this raises privacy concerns of being tracked as well as concerns over accuracy where the wrong person could be arrested due to a misidentification by the technology. Due to the very nature of the technology, the data used is of a highly personal nature.

In a South African context, additional clauses of the Protection of Personal Information Act began on 1 July, requiring that any facial recognition system - in particular the data used - must be extremely secure.

The focus of van Niekerk’s input on the panel was on securing the technology. ‘Often new technologies are connected to an organisational network, or even the Internet, with little thought or understanding of the security implications,’ said van Niekerk.

‘There have been cases where CCTV systems have been “hacked”, sometimes for surveillance, and other times as a launching point for a cyber-attack. If a facial recognition system is compromised, it could have similar consequences, or the data could be stolen for criminals to use for identity theft. It is therefore important that security best practices are implemented to protect the technology to reduce the risk of it being compromised, and limit the impact to the organisation if it does get “hacked”,’ he said.

The ISS is a non-profit organisation with offices in South Africa, Kenya, Ethiopia and Senegal. Its work focuses on the analysis of conflict and governance, peacekeeping and peace building, crime prevention, criminal justice and transnational crimes, as well as maritime security and development.

Van Niekerk, an Honorary Research Fellow at UKZN from July 2014 to when he joined UKZN in a permanent capacity in December 2017, currently lectures the Honours Network Security module as well as modules from first and second-year.

His research interests include national and international cybersecurity and privacy and cybersecurity in Higher Education. He is the co-editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Cyber Warfare and Terrorism and associate editor for the International Journal of Information Security and Privacy.

Words: NdabaOnline

Photograph: Supplied


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UKZN Students Support Distance Learning Project

UKZN Students Support Distance Learning Project
Mr Sazi Nxumalo, one of 17 UKZN students who are part of the Numeric Distance Learning Project.Click here for isiZulu version

The Numeric Distance Learning Project has attracted about 17 UKZN Education students who have offered their teaching services and knowledge for high-impact after-school Mathematics programmes aimed at primary school learners in Gauteng, the Western Cape, and KwaZulu-Natal.

Numeric is a public benefit organisation and a community engagement partner with the School of Education, which helps young South Africans excel in mathematics and also trains teachers.

Numeric currently partners with 45 primary schools in low income areas, reaches more than 2 400 learners annually, and has worked with around 11 500 youngsters since inception. Numeric programmes offer learners 100 hours of extra maths instruction each year in the form of after-school classes held twice a week at local primary schools.

‘Given the lockdown and not being able to meet with our learners face-to-face, we have implemented an innovative distance learning solution powered by low-data technology whereby we are currently able to reach about 1 550 of our learners across the country through WhatsApp groups, Facebook, and SMS,’ said Numeric CEO Ms Kristen Thompson.

‘Our learners connect with a coach (teaching intern) through a WhatsApp group where they receive video lessons in English and/or isiZulu, practice exercises, maths games and riddles, and consultation time twice a week. We have also made these resources available on our website (www.numeric.org/learning-tools).’ 

Several UKZN students have contributed directly to the development of these videos and resources.

Education student, Mr Sazi Nxumalo says his role in teaching learners at a distance has been an educational journey. ‘There has been a lot to learn such as organising, improvising, and preparing myself as a pre-service teacher. Teaching from a distance is challenging,’ said Nxumalo.

‘There is one important feature every teacher must have and that is a strong relationship with learners. Being in contact with learners is not unusual because that’s what we’re used to but this is a new opportunity for me as this project is about building relationships at a distance. It’s all about giving back to the community and supporting parents in the role they have to play.’

Fellow student, Ms Nombulelo Ngobese added: ‘One important thing this has taught me is patience. We send a video and an exercise to a learner and it can take them two days to send back the answers. The learners may have problems around issues such as data, network, and other things, so I have had to be patient.’

Tutoring online is a first for Ngobese: ‘It is an interesting thing to do via WhatsApp. Most of us have WhatsApp where data is cheaper so it is a lot more accessible for the kids. Making videos is fun but challenging. You need to be precise, straight to the point, while explaining everything that the learner needs to know.’

Said Mr Luvuyo Notshokovu who leads the Numeric team in Durban: ‘I grew up thinking teaching was having someone in front of you with chalk and a duster. I am blown away by the level of engagement the learners are showing via WhatsApp by just watching a video and being able to ask questions and communicate at a distance. I am proud of the UKZN students who are involved. It’s showing that the country is heading in the right direction because we have young people who really care about the education sector as a whole.’

A total of 284 learners in KwaZulu-Natal are involved in the distance-learning project thus far.

Words: Melissa Mungroo

Photograph: Supplied


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Webinar Hosted on UKZN YouTube Channel by Mandela Institute

Webinar Hosted on UKZN YouTube Channel by Mandela Institute
From left: Mrs Graça Machel, Dr Nkosana Moyo, Professor Hassan Kaya, Mr Amine Adoum, Professor Muxe Nkondo, Ms Sarah Menker, and Dr Aunkh Chabalala.

The Mandela Institute for Development Studies (MINDS) recently hosted a webinar to create awareness and revive the interests of the youth in Africa’s contribution to Science and Technology.

The Day of Africa’s Scientific Renaissance webinar on UKZN’s YouTube Channel was facilitated by MINDS Board Member, Ms Sarah Menker.

The event involved Mrs Graça Machel, MINDS Chairperson and the widow of former president Nelson Mandela; MINDS Founder, Dr Nkosana Moyo; UKZN’s Director of the DSI-NRF Centre in Indigenous Knowledge Systems (CIKS), Professor Hassan Kaya; AUDA-NEPAD Director of Programmes, Mr Amine Adoum; Director of Indigenous Knowledge-Based Technology Innovation Unit at the Department of Science and Innovation, Dr Aunkh Chabalala, and a member of Council at the University of South Africa, Professor Muxe Nkondo.

‘Let’s own the narrative of our history and achievements so that we can give our children the confidence and self-belief that they can do it as well, because it’s our responsibility to tell of our narrative from a perspective that comes from us,’ said Moyo.

The panelists focused on the need to promote “Africanness” as they reflected on African history, culture, heritage and indigenous knowledge systems.

Kaya examined the role of science in the context of indigenous knowledge systems and CIKS’s mandate to promote, protect and preserve indigenous knowledge. He highlighted CIKS’s conceptualisation of science as a pursuit of knowledge with historically, culturally and ecologically specific approaches to systematisation. Kaya also emphasised how colonialism had made one knowledge system or science dominant and marginalised others saying: ‘As long as there is a diversity of cultures globally, there is no one science.’

Adoum addressed the lack of good governance in Africa and the inability of leaders to provide a balanced, transparent and functional public sector, a factor that has had a negative impact on the private sector. He emphasised how a renaissance on the continent could be achieved through a functional public sector and a government that creates the conditions and infrastructure required to support the research and development of Science and Technology.

Nkondo provided insight on how African languages could be used strategically as a force of global solidarity and called on language policies to be reviewed around the world in order for Africa to be able to contribute to solving global problems, such as COVID-19.

Chabalala advocated for Africans to systematise indigenous knowledge systems, manufacture their own medicinal products and develop traditional healthcare to levels similar to China, Korea and Singapore. He urged Africans to claim their heritage as far back as they could, develop medical cosmologies that wisdom keepers can gain from, and to start teaching their children in their own languages. ‘Our kids need to know that there have been people who look like them since the beginning of time who have led medical and scientific research,’ Chabalala said.

Machel thanked the panellists and everyone who participated in the discussion. In closing she said: ‘Take ownership of your capabilities as Africans and show young minds that it is possible.’

Words: Hlengiwe Khwela

Photographs: Supplied


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UKZN Academic Addresses International COVID-19 e-Conference

UKZN Academic Addresses International COVID-19 e-Conference
UKZN’s Professor Purshottama Reddy.

Professor Purshottama Reddy of the Discipline of Governance in UKZN’s School of Management, IT and Governance participated in a virtual conference hosted by the Secretariat of the International Institute of Administrative Sciences (IIAS) at the end of June 2020.

Public Governance for Climate Action was the theme of a four-day e-Conference in which Reddy presented in a plenary session titled: COVID-19 Pandemic and Public Governance: Priorities, Trust and Engagement. Sharing the platform with Reddy were Professor Paul Joyce of the University of Birmingham in England, Dr F Marion of the IIAS, Professor Geert Bouckaert of the University of Leuven in Belgium; Professor R Schomaker of the German University of Administrative Sciences, and Dr John Mary Kauyza of the United Nations. 

Issues highlighted by Reddy and discussed at the gathering included the quality of the public health system which impacted on pandemic preparedness and the availability of resources (especially financial, human, and technical) and medical equipment.

Reddy said there were noteworthy gaps in universal pandemic preparedness which remained inadequate, particularly in developing countries. ‘Many of these countries indicated that they would not have been prepared for the pandemic at any given point in time, due to the resource constraints. Despite challenges faced, particularly by developing countries, in the public healthcare system, resource constraints and vulnerability of the populace, it seems they had initially managed to contain the pandemic at an early stage as a result of enforced “lockdowns”.

‘However, it is still early days in many of these countries and one must adopt a “wait-and-see attitude”,’ said Reddy.

In developed countries, the public health care system/governance was reasonably good/responsive and well-funded. However, it seemed, he said, that many of these countries were completely overwhelmed by the severity of the pandemic, both in terms of infections/deaths and the resultant consequences. Behavioural compliance, decisive action, and the notion of democracy/human rights were also issues that had to be taken cognisance of in any analysis of the situation.

Reddy also chaired a session titled: The COVID-19 Pandemic and Public Governance: Measures and Lessons Learned, which featured two country presentations reviewing the experiences of Italy and Poland.

Commenting on the discussion, Reddy said: ‘Italy was one of the first countries to be affected and it was quite severe. It was pointed out that the country had an effective but weary public health care system. Poland, a former Eastern Bloc country which had some autocratic tendencies, was not very accountable, however, decision-making relative to the pandemic was swift. The latter was not very hard hit and the management of the pandemic was perceived as being successful to some extent.’

Reddy is currently Vice-President: Programmes of the International Association of Schools and Institutes of Administration (IASIA), and the Chairperson of the Programme and Research Committee of IIAS.

He is currently involved in a joint IIAS/IASIA collaborative research project titled: The COVID-19 Pandemic and Public Governance: Measures and Lessons Learnt. The research will culminate in an online publication next month, which will be available to IIAS/IASIA membership and participating countries. The publication will reflect on the national experiences of 52 countries and include an ‘eye witnesses’/practitioners’ perspective’ on country experiences ‘on the ground’.

Reddy’s two co-editors are Professor Joyce and Dr Marion.

Words: NdabaOnline

Photograph: Supplied


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Service-Learning in the Time of COVID-19

Service-Learning in the Time of COVID-19
Top row from left: Dr Angela James, Dr Anissa Mc Neil and Dr Eugene Machimana. Second row: Dr Jugathambal Ramdhani, Dr Frances O’Brien and Professor Jennifer Subban. Third row: Mr Luthando Fundzo, Ms Melanie Sadeck and Professor Lesley Wood.

Questions about how students can involve themselves in Service-Learning during the wild fire COVID-19 pandemic formed the subject for debate at a forum hosted by the Community Engagement sector in UKZN’s School of Education, featuring both local and international academics.

The discussions took place against a backdrop of both academics and practitioners working in the field of Service-Learning (SL) faced with the harsh realities of infection and social distancing, among other factors, while they strive to meet student expectations of working closely with communities. The situation is demanding - even threatening - but could be viewed as an opportunity to re-imagine how students can be involved.

Questions asked include: How can students be engaged in Service-Learning during these times? What are the constraints and possibilities for this engagement?

Below is a selection of the opinions and comments expressed by academics and others at the forum:

Dr Frances O’Brien, Service-Learning practitioner and researcher, offered an inclusive framework for Service-Learning, one that involved the following four Discourses:

‘(1) Scholarly Engagement, that focuses on knowledge and research. Such engagement is likely to be interdisciplinary and, in the current context, to prioritise online aides for reflection and demonstration of learning. (2) Benevolent Engagement, characterised by the offering of services and demonstration of skills. In the COVID-19 context, relationships with diverse service providers would be prioritised. (3) Democratic Engagement comprises Service-Learning for the purpose of social change. In this Discourse in current times, students themselves may comprise as “community”. The development of online resources would aim to promote advocacy and equitable participation. (4) The Professional Engagement Discourse focuses on human resources. In this Discourse, internships, articles, work integrated learning (WIL), and practical or fieldwork allow service-learning in line with professional bodies’ requirements. In the re-imagined context, service-learning in professional workspaces may have to be substituted by scenarios and case studies. 

‘We need to consider that before students can conduct Service-Learning, the professional preparation needed should be prescribed and the timing planned - so bring all the theories into the first half of the module and at the end, the practice and the second option is to do it vice-versa,’ said O’Brien. ‘An important aspect to consider is that working across the discourses, relationships with organisations in the community are vital.’

Ms Jacqui Scheepers, Service-Learning and Civic Engagement Manager at Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT): ‘We are expected now to work online - this is a time for deep reflection and introspection. Reflection is often a neglected part of the process of learning and now that we are not in the classroom, we have to think of other ways for students to develop cognitive relationships with the curriculum. The reality is that students are working with more responsibilities and self-reflection therefore it becomes even more important. As academics we have been presenting workshops on-line but still have to use academic rigour to meet all the learning outcomes. This is challenging in this current context considering the reduced time that we now have and that our Service-Learning projects were usually face-to face. 

‘We operate with four main modalities: (1) Work-Directed Learning (industry context); (2) Problem-Based Learning (relevant to communities); (3) Project-Based Learning, and (4) Workplace Learning (and alternative spaces for students to have placements in a community context). In Project-Based Learning, which is the main modality for Service-Learning, we have to ask questions about how we need to re-imagine face-to-face Service-Learning. In this work, project leadership is important as the projects need to be planned and implemented by the respective project groups. This is challenging especially with project-based trans-disciplinary projects - Who will manage these as there are many disciplines all working on the same challenge at the same time? ‘We could use Blackboard or other e-learning platforms and place students into teams to work on trans-disciplinary projects. The topic is not the only issue to consider, it is the learning journey that is critical. There exists the possibility that assessments linked to projects could be changed to e-learning portfolio assessments.

‘Service-Learning projects usually involve community site visits, but this is not possible now. Instead universities should capitalise on their project partnerships to re-engineer their Service-Learning projects. Social entrepreneurship projects are good examples of co-operation between universities and society. For example, the making of masks, which involves different skills and expertise and create employment opportunities in communities. Consider this: What projects can students do at home/in their neighbourhood? Students could investigate whether people are social distancing and what is happening to the businesses in their community? There could be campus-based projects, with the campus as a site of learning. Other project examples are where engineering and horticulture students can work with the student residences and school projects involving the mentoring of school learners online using WhatsApp and other social media platforms.’ Researchers can also be involved as the scholarship of engagement is important. As long as the projects to be undertaken benefit society. 

Dr Anissa Mc Neil, founder and Chief Executive Officer of Education Works Consulting Firm, Inc in Los Angeles in the United States, spoke on SL in the context of COVID-19 from a Community Engagement perspective as an international educational leader working in six countries:

‘Three significant things are needed: action research, needs assessment, and a 360-degree impact assessment.

‘SL is in the midst of a crisis and there should be action research because we are in a community, another environment and completing a project or a piece of research. A theoretical project without impact to a community will not be well received.

‘Also, it is important to work on identifying the needs of the community by doing a needs assessment. The needs assessment in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic should identify a need that the community can put their arms around. One of the activities that could be carried out is using technology to do health information webinars in the community which may not have the best health information.

‘A 360-degree impact assessment is warranted - one should ask: does this project have an impact on students and on student learning; does this project have an impact on the community and to what degree does it have this impact? Also does this project have an impact for the participants? So, if we gauge our SL by impact and a need, then we’re going to be able to identify those projects that are worth-while and beneficial for our communities and not merely from a theoretical point of view. Every project should have the community and participants’ arms wrapped around it, so that the university becomes another arm of the community and not just a statue of academic learning.’

Dr Jugathambal Ramdhani, a UKZN academic, said her thinking about SL was linked to an Ubuntu SL approach that transcended into the virtual and practical space so the focus was on how do we take responsibility in terms of what’s happening especially now in the COVID-19 context. A question that we need to address in re-thinking about SL is how do the students become genuinely committed?

Students would usually go into the schools during teaching practice to work with the learners and entrepreneurship projects, developing, say for example, an entrepreneurial idea, putting it into practice and rolling it out into the communities as well. Now, we need to consider how to incorporate digital technologies and e-Service-Learning. We do need to look at our university sites, the issue of poverty, the large number of unemployed persons, 195 million jobs that could be lost globally, and the issue of food security - the issue of access rather than shortage of food, and that malnutrition rather than hunger will result. We need to ask how we can use business product ideas to assist with interventions to achieve a carbon neutral environment and to minimise the harmful effects of climate change. This will entail the University creating partnerships for example through scholarship of engagement between the Economic Management Studies, the University and the students’ home communities working on an entrepreneurship project idea that can respond to the economic, social, the civic and the moral problems. Students will be expected to create prototypes in the e-classroom and to share them with their communities… and this becomes a larger project. They can do video presentations of this entrepreneurship addressing poverty and to create a carbon neutral environment. We should leave it to the students to decide on what to work with in their virtual groupings, using Moodle and on how they will use the virtual approaches to engage with these communities of choice, and also how to address the issue of exclusion.’

Mr Luthando Fundzo, a first-year Natural Sciences and Life Sciences teacher who completed the Research and Service-Learning module undertaken by third-year pre-service Biological Sciences students, posed the following question: ‘What is the significance of teachers giving learners SL projects during this pandemic and how did the SL course at university equip me to infuse SL in the school curriculum?

‘It is important that teachers give learners projects that inform them and make them aware of the pandemic in a more practical way. Experiential learning and the responsibilities that are linked to the project are important. The learners could use the knowledge they have of what a virus is, which is what we teach in Grade eight and how it spreads and how people are infected? And Why it is a respiratory illness from what we teach in Grade nine. The SL project could engage them in working with communities and exploring their knowledge of what this pandemic is and the measures that can be taken to prevent the spread. This also increases the likelihood for them to establish what the pandemic is and their experiences among themselves and their families. So this S-L learning project, will actually groom them to be able to know which stream or career choice to make. So basically, I wanted to emphasise what was said earlier that when we are administering these projects with the learners – take into account their environment, the needs of the community and then we’ll be able to administer these kinds of projects.’

Professor Jennifer Subban, Interim director of the Office of Service Learning and Community Engagement, Wright State University in the United States works with Masters of Public Administration students on Strategic Planning and programme evaluation. ‘The organisations we will work with will focus attention around the impact of COVID-19 and this will affect the class. We are not on campus and not allowed to have face-to-face meetings. Our contact is via Zoom or a platform that we use at the university. The objectives of the course are: learn to lead and manage strategic planning process while contributing to the work of public agencies, analyse synthesise and engage in critical thinking around critical issues for the communities or the organisations that we work with, apply a public service perspective to their work and finally communicate and interact productively with a diverse group - changing workforce and citizenry.’

So I hope at the end of my courses students will demonstrate an understanding of the role of strategic planning for these organisations in terms of programme evaluation tools for programme evaluation approaches to programme evaluation relevant to the particular organisations and the kinds of work they're trying to do. I also trust they have learnt to manage this information and these processes that are related to strategic planning and programme evaluation and are able to present a document to the agency that they could use to effectively, think about and engage their service populations and staff. It is important that the students also have to learn how to communicate around these issues, how to facilitate inquiry from the point of view of the agencies, and have the ability to collect data as well.

‘And so how are we going to do this in an era where we do not have face-to-face communication? We will have to work online with focus groups who will engage with the service population so that we have a better understanding of the communities’ needs and nuances. The organisations will have to frame their work around what's relevant to the community.’

Dr Eugene Machimana, Senior Education Consultant, Curricular Community Engagement at the University of Pretoria, supported the move away from just getting into community engagement for the theoretical aspect part of it. Rather service and learning should have equal standing to provide a service that addresses real issues in the community.

Professor Lesley Wood, Director - Community-based Educational Research (COMBER) in the Faculty of Education at North-West University said: ‘There is a need to keep sharing ideas because everybody has different ideas and I think this is an amazing opportunity for us to rethink how we do Service-Learning and Community-based research, because if we ask people what they want and what they need, then we can go from there.’

Ms Melanie Sadeck, Head of Department, Teacher Professional Development at CPUT, said they had many ideas, for example a water purification project at rural schools in the Western Cape and these ideas should be shared. ‘To enhance Service-Learning we do need to look at writing proposals around capacity development with communities and how they can access the services we work with.’ 

Dr Angela James, Academic Leader: Community Engagement and a senior lecturer in Science Education at UKZN’s School of Education, said: ‘For all the communities we are working with - and we are a community within ourselves - we need to see Service-Learning on its own if we want change to happen in South Africa. It will be from our students, especially those concerned with Service-Learning and not just Community Engagement. It is such a rich environment - when you share what work students do with communities, it is phenomenal. We do need to consider how much more will be expected after COVID-19?

‘The question to ask is: Are we waiting for things to be brought to us or are we, in collaboration with our communities, preparing for what is going to happen? We don’t know. But, how flexible are we to work with this?’

Words: Angela James

Photographs: Supplied


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