Suspending Contact without Stopping Learning: Technological Response of the South African Higher Education to the COVID-19 Pandemic Challenges

Dorothy Kanyemba, Costa Hofisi


The COVID-19 Pandemic is an emergency that requires higher education administrators to design responses that mitigate the challenges of saving lives, simultaneously saving their academic years through non-disruption of educational programs. This study aims to examine how one university and one TVET college in South Africa responded to the teaching and learning challenges imposed by COVID-19 during the 2021-2021 academic cycle. The study followed an exploratory sequential mixed-method approach, viewed through the lens of the Diffusion of Innovation Theory. The methodology involved gathering quantitative data using a survey questionnaire, conducting a qualitative inquiry through interviews, followed by a comparative analysis of how the university and TVET college use the technology to mitigate the COVID-19 challenges. Analysis performed using SPSS Version 27 software and thematic content analysis brought out descriptive data regarding coping mechanisms of the two institutions. Results revealed that the university was ready for a migration to online and remote pedagogy, and a TVET college was still struggling to adjust to the requirements of the digitally driven pedagogy, despite both being under the same higher education system in the country. Wide gaps in accessibility to resources, digital efficacy levels, and supportive ICT infrastructure exist between the two institutions. These findings should provide insight to higher education administrators and policy makers on the need for appropriate interventions that support effective technological adaptations and implementation of remote teaching and learning across all higher education institutions, to fit them in the digitally driven educational environments of the COVID-19 era and beyond. The study recommends digital upskilling of the TVET staff, establishment of partnerships with Internet service providers and reviewing funding models for higher education ICT infrastructure development. This study contributes to the existing literature on higher education administration by identifying challenges hampering TVET institutions’ progress toward technologically driven teaching and learning environments of the 21st century and beyond.


Keywords: COVID-19 pandemic, digital infrastructure, information, communication.




Full Text:



ALI, W. (2020). Online and remote learning in higher education institutes: A necessity in light of COVID-19 pandemic. Higher Education Studies, 10(3), 16-25.

ANDRADE, C. (2021). The inconvenient truth about convenience and purposive samples. Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, 43(1), 86-88.

BUTHELEZI Z.G. (2018). Lecturer experiences of TVET College challenges in the post-apartheid era: a case of unintended consequences of educational reform in South Africa. Journal of Vocational Education and Training, 70(3), 1-20.

CHOTHIA A. (2020). Coronavirus outbreak closes all South African universities and colleges. Date of access: 10 May 2020.

CRAWFORD, J., BUTLER-HENDERSON, K., RUDOLPH, J., MALKAWI, B., et al. (2020). COVID-19: 20 countries’ higher education intra-period digital pedagogy responses. Journal of Applied Learning and Teaching, 3(1), 9-20.

DANIEL J. (2020). Education and the COVID-19 Pandemic. Date of access: June 2020.

E-LEARNING AFRICA. (2020). The Effect of COVID-19 on Education in Africa and Its Implications for the Use of Technology. A Survey of the Experience of Educators and Technology Specialists. September 2020.

GOVERNMENT, S.A. (2020). Minister Blade Nzimande: Measures to deal with the Coronavirus COVID-19 in the post-school education and training sector. Date of access: 19 March 2020.

HOULDEN, S., and VELETSIANOS, G. (2020). Coronavirus pushes universities to switch to online classes — but are they ready? The Conversation. Date of access: 13 May 2020.

LYNCH, M. (2020). E-Learning during a global pandemic. Asian Journal of Distance Education, 15(1), 189-195.

MDLETSHE, F.L. (2019). Teaching digital natives: integrating blended learning in creative design for fashion. Master’s Thesis. Durban University of Technology.

MOYO, R. (2019). Adoption of information and communication technologies in teaching and learning at a university. South African Journal of Higher Education, 33(5), 42-60.

MPUNGOSE, C.B. (2020). Is Moodle or WhatsApp the preferred e-learning platform at a South African university? First-year students’ experiences. Education and Information Technologies, 25(2), 927-941.

OECD. (2017a). Digital Government Review of Norway: Boosting the Digital Transformation of the Public Sector. Date of access: 10 July 2019.

OECD. (2020). The impact of COVID-19 on education insights from education at a glance 2020. Retrieved from OECD website:

PETRONZI, R., and PETRONZI, D. (2020). The Online and Campus (OaC) Model as a Sustainable Blended Approach to Teaching and Learning in Higher Education: A Response to COVID-19. Journal of Pedagogical Research, 4(4), 498-507.

PINTO, M. & LEITE, C. (2020). Digital technologies in support of students learning in Higher Education: literature review. Digital Education Review, 343-360.

ROGERS E. (2003). Diffusion of Innovations. New York: Free Press.

TAMM, S. (2019). Types of eLearning. Date of access: 20 November 2020.

TAMRAT, W. and TEFERRA, D. (2020). COVID-19 Threat to higher education: Africa’s challenges, responses, and apprehensions. International Higher Education, 102, 28-30.

THOMPSON, S. (2017). Isolation: A Barrier of Virtual Distance Learning. Date of access: 12 November 2020.

UNESCO. (2020). COVID-19 Educational Disruption and Response. Date of access: 8 April 2020.

WU, Z. (2020). How a top Chinese university is responding to coronavirus. Date of access: 15 May 2020.

ZHANG, W., WANG, Y., YANG, L. and WANG, C. (2020). Suspending Classes Without Stopping Learning: China’s Education Emergency Management Policy in the COVID-19 Outbreak: Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute.

ZHONG, R. (2020). The coronavirus exposes education’s digital divide. The New York Times, March 18.

ZHOU, L., WU, S., ZHOU, M. and LI, F. (2020). School’s Out, but Class’ On. The Largest Online Education in the World Today: Taking China’s Practical Exploration During The COVID-19 Epidemic Prevention and Control As an Example. Date of access: April 2020


  • There are currently no refbacks.