Being outside of the world of work and learning institutions, I am divorced from what learners, students, teachers, and lecturers have to deal with when it comes to the lack of access to teaching and learning. My limited encounters with platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Teams and even WhatsApp group videos give me some sense of the role that distance plays. Learning encounters are not only content-based but also have to take values, attitudes and response to different personalities into account. We can be grateful that this pandemic happened when we do have access to those platforms and are not completely visually distanced.
But for maybe the majority of our population this is not a given. The pandemic has indeed highlighted the divide between the rich and the poor. For me it is even more important for us to recognise where we are in eradicating poverty, what our particular contributions towards that is to truly be able to say that we are working towards an equal society. Why have we not yet reached our targets? Why must the poor only look on to see what is possible and not be part of that possibility?
Participating in the recent Russel Botman Memorial Lecture, hosted by Stellenbosch University, I introduced the fifteen bursary recipients for 2020. During that lecture, I became so acutely aware that we are dealing with a privileged grouping in our society, with a statistic of roughly 1% of our population participating in higher education. And even there, technology and the use thereof fail us. It fails to transmit videos, the speaker cannot be heard, poor internet connection and the like. And what about the onlookers outside of these networks, without data and appropriate devices?
This informs my plea for donations to the Russel Botman Bursary Fund for more of the “outsiders” to be let into higher education – for a better future for all communities and not only some. Let this be our contribution to creating more bursary opportunities.
This year started with a very positive outlook on the possibilities of 2020. Early in the year, COVID-19 seemed far away in the east with no real connection to us here on the southern point of Africa. But this was not to be. Today we are in the sixth week of lockdown. The first-ever such regulations in South Africa and we are making the road by walking it. Only later in the lockdown process, after an extension, levels of lockdown were introduced.
It is this “making the path while walking” that Paulo Freire refers to. On this path, we have to learn to walk with others, walk on our own and be led in ways unknown to us. These are the days in which we have to not only learn but also relearn and unlearn our world and its challenges. Stellenbosch University must also walk this path along with its staff, students and the entire university community. Our bursary fund recipients for 2020 have to take up their bursary opportunities in much different circumstances than any of the others.
They have to learn in new and different ways, remotely and take much more responsibility for self-learning and discipline. In the spirit of Russel Botman, the bursary fund would like to encourage all interest groups to keep future generations in mind and continue to donate for the fund to continue developing the youth that needs to lead us into a new society and world.
Keep safe and healthy. Stay responsible and hopeful.