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Pandemic teaching hamstrung South African science


Seven out of ten scientists struggled to keep up with their research

Seven out of ten South African academics quizzed for a survey said that they struggled to keep up with their research due to the increased teaching load brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

The results of the survey of more than 1,800 academic staff members at 24 South African universities was published on 15 November. The survey is a collaboration between the Council on Higher Education, Universities South Africa, and the University of the Free State.

The survey asked academics about their lecturing experiences over the last two years, focusing on their experience of doing ‘blended’ teaching and learning—mixing remote instruction with in-person lectures.

Besides the drain on research, 79 per cent of respondents complained about a lack of engagement and participation from students, and 76 per cent said lack of student access to resources to study remotely had been a major challenge.

Participating universities invited all academic staff to respond to the survey. However, few did so—the final sample size accounts for merely 3.4 per cent of the country’s total estimated academic employees.

This indicates a “general fatigue” among staff, a report discussing the survey results state. More than half of the sample hailed from six institutions: the universities of Pretoria, Johannesburg, Free State, Cape Town, Witwatersrand and the University of South Africa.

The survey report recommends that universities improve student access to digital infrastructure, boost research on mixed in-person and remote learning, and provide training for students and staff in digital skills. It also calls on guidance to be drawn up nationally and institutionally to address academics’ concerns about declining student performance and engagement.