BY DAVE CHAMBERS
For the past 10 years‚ the University of Cape Town human genetics honours class has had a 100% pass rate‚ but academics say this year’s class is struggling.
Associate professor Collet Dandara and two colleagues say several clues link poor marks with protests. “Most affected universities failed to complete last year’s programmes‚” they write in the September edition of the South African Medical Journal.
While UCT’s health sciences faculty opted for a “mini-semester” in January‚ other universities went ahead with exams in guarded venues during the final days of the protests‚ “while still others seem to have used marks students had achieved up to the beginning of the protests as the final marks reflected on certificates”.
Dandara‚ Emile Chimusa and Ambroise Wonkam say the human genetics class contains students from several universities‚ where they were affected differently by the protests.
“Our rigorous selection process … depends on academic achievement; therefore‚ the different decisions taken by universities in completing their programmes are now manifesting in class.”
One student had dropped out and up to 20% were “needing assistance to avoid a high likelihood of failure”.
The trio add: “We retrospectively question the usefulness of some of the results of examinations written soon after the protests‚ as students were exhausted‚ stressed and had not completed some of their course content.”
Warning that other disciplines in many universities may be experiencing the same problem‚ the academics call for measures to tackle challenges in higher education “in a way that minimises negative effects on students’ academic performances”.
They say: “It cannot be that every time we need to confront or redress vestiges of apartheid or socio-economic ills‚ we wait for students to put their lives and careers on the line‚ similarly to the students and youths of 1976.
“As a society‚ it is important that issues raised by our students receive our full attention and that we create clear‚ transparent roadmaps on remedial action.”