The Digital Divide: Teaching and Learning at the University of KwaZulu-Natal during the Covid-19 Pandemic

Dr. Sultan Khan (University of KwaZulu-Natal)


The Covid-19 pandemic affected all facets of life around the globe. Institutions of higher learning have not been immune to the pandemic, risking the interruption of the academic year. In a bid to save the academic year, institutions have been forced to look at how teaching and learning can take place without compromising their academic credibility and quality of instruction. Digital teaching and learning can be seen as a way of surmounting the restrictions placed on accessing education for full-time students, especially amongst those originating from low-income households and living a distance away from the university. In the more developed parts of the world, access to Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is much more advanced although there are some variations in the levels of access. Notwithstanding, it is much more accessible as compared to their counterparts in developing countries. This digital divide places universities in a precarious position in developing countries.

This paper examines how ICT can be used effectively to facilitate teaching and learning in these uncertain times. It focuses on how South African universities moved to embrace ICT resources post-liberation and the creative use of this to advance their teaching and learning within their institutions. However, within the country there is a digital divide between historically advantaged white universities and the Black disadvantaged ones due to the legacy of colonialism and Apartheid. The University of KwaZulu-Natal is used as a case to illustrate how, despite the traumatic experience of a merger between two disparate universities (the University of Natal, comprising predominantly whites, and the University of Durban – Westville, which was historically established for Black students), the university seized the opportunity for ICT development within its teaching and learning programmes. This paper examines how this merged institution braced itself over the years to invest in ICT infrastructure and resources, which it used for emergency teaching and learning during the Covid-19 pandemic.

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