#FeesMustFall highlights challenges and opportunities

#FeesMustFall highlights challenges and opportunities

Posted: 27 Oct 2015

The big news in South Africa this past week has been the countrywide #FeesMustFall protests against the high costs of tertiary education. The protests were sparked by anger over double digit increases for next year’s tuition fees, and soon escalated into a protest against all fees, with some students demanding free education for all.

Whatever one thinks of the politics of the protests, our students do seem to have raised some critical issues that we need to be talking about. Most important of these is probably the fact that tertiary education has indeed become prohibitively expensive for all but the well-off or those lucky enough to secure bursaries. Some critics would say that we can’t afford to cut student fees, but as a country, we need to ask ourselves whether we really can afford not to do this. What will we lose by continuing to exclude deserving students just because they come from poor families? How will our country grow if only the wealthy ever get a chance to empower themselves through tertiary education?

These are tough questions, and we put our support behind those who are asking the questions and those seeking answers. From our perspective, we would like to see some creative and solution-focused thinking around how better to fund education, as well as how to provide it at lower cost. For instance, are there other teaching-learning models that might have lower cost implications for both institutions and their learners? The Blended Learning model, where teaching-learning consists of a mix of live classes and online lessons, would lower the cost of teaching as well as the cost of learning. We mustn’t forget that the act of learning – going to classes, buying food on campuses, paying for transport, etc – is a cost to students.

And what about text books that cost over R1 000 and which students must buy so they can study just three chapters? Surely there are better ways of getting this information into the hands of learners. For instance, could those three chapters be provided in electronic format accessible on e-readers or mobile devices at a fraction of the cost?

Whatever you think of the conduct of our students in these protests, they are challenging us to think creatively about these issues that affect us all (and yes, the education of learners and students does affect everyone in this country!). They are exposing old ways of learning and teaching that no longer suit our modern age.

At E-classroom we are inspired by the drive to create new and more accessible ways of teaching and learning. In just one week during the protests (18 – 24 October) more than 15 700 teachers, parents and learners visited the site to download free school worksheets. We are exploring ways of creating a sustainable business while at the same time providing free or very low cost resources to all who need it. Right now there are many other companies, startups and NGOs exploring the same question. We are all part of the solution and we look forward to what the future will bring.

Right now, we commend our students for raising these questions, and we wish them all the best in their end-of-year exams.

Photo credit: Damba Kuombera – http://sacreativenetwork.co.za/2015/10/the-most-captivating-feesmustfall-images/

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