Life as a University First-Year Student in Covid-19 Times

Covid-19 has compelled many Higher Learning Institutions to swiftly adapt to a new normal and transition to online classrooms. While there are notable benefits to online learning, such as flexibility, accessibility and affordability, the quick adaptation has proven to be stressful and difficult for educators and learners alike. University dropout rates in South Africa are incredibly high, at between 50-60% of first-year students dropping out. At the same time, schools currently face a 20-year school dropout record.

To understand the true impact of the pandemic, we recently caught up with 2020 New Nation School alumnus and first-year student, Bongiwe Maneng, who shared how she has been adapting to the change. Bongiwe is studying for a BSc in Mathematics and Statistics degree at the University of Johannesburg and resides on campus. As one of the top learners in her matric class, she is also a recipient of CTAOP’s Youth Leaders Scholarship

BONGIWE, AS THE FIRST PERSON TO GO TO UNIVERSITY AT HOME, WHAT IMPACT HAS THAT HAD FOR YOUR FAMILY?

Being the first person in my family to go to university has impacted my family positively because now they believe that at least there’s one thing to hold on to, that gives them hope and the surety that there’s light at the end of the tunnel and that there’ll be a change in a few years.

HOW HAS THE ADJUSTMENT TO FROM HIGH-SCHOOL TO ONLINE LEARNING IN UNIVERSITY BEEN?

At first I found online learning very difficult and overwhelming. I did not know how the whole system worked but I found my way through it. I prefer contact classes more because you can engage with the lecturer directly and ask a friend to ask a question for you if you are shy, but with the new normal you’ll have to keep it to yourself until the end of the lesson or when you get used to the idea.

WHAT CHALLENGES HAVE YOU HAD TO OVERCOME AS A FIRST YEAR STUDENT?

Having to do a lot by myself, since I’m used to the spoon-feeding I received at school, here, no one will run after you and ask you to complete your assessments, you need to keep track of everything. The study workload also increased so I need to stick to a new timetable. Devoting my time accordingly has also been a bit difficult with my bad time management skills.

CAN YOU SHARE ANY HIGHLIGHTS OF YOUR FIRST YEAR SO FAR?

Obtaining a distinction in a module I never thought I’d pass. I remember getting a zero for my first practical, but I told myself that you know what? this is not the end of the world, there’s still room for improvement, you do not excel “Yet” but you definitely will as time goes by and that kept me going, I did not give up. I kept the fire within me burning .

WHAT IS YOUR ADVICE TO GRADE 12 STUDENTS WHO WANT TO ATTEND UNIVERSITY AFTER MATRIC?

I have 5 strategies which have helped me a lot:

  1. Think of university as a full-time job that you need to commit fully to. Organize your time and plan your week, more especially during your first semester.
  2. Do not depend on anyone for help. Even if they assured you that they’ll help. People have a lot on their plate and getting help is not entirely guaranteed.
  3. If things go wrong, use the support services that the university provides. Mental breakdowns are real so don’t wait till they are critical.
  4. Make as many mistakes as you can so that you can learn from them but be sure not to repeat the same mistakes.
  5. Find out the registration processes of whatever university you’ve been accepted in.
  6. Always be yourself. Don’t try to impress others because you are from a disadvantaged background. Accept your situations at home.

Change can be difficult and, at times, scary. Yet, stories such as Bongiwe’s show us that change comes with an opportunity to learn critical skills such as resilience, self-discipline and self-motivation. Those who embrace this change will succeed in the new way of life in our modern-day times.

 

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