Higher Education, Science and Technology Deputy Minister Buti Manamela has paid tribute to those young people who are at the frontline of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
Manamela on Wednesday participated in a debate on Youth Day during a hybrid National Assembly sitting in Parliament.
When President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the nation later in the evening, he said that COVID-19 had claimed the lives of 1 674 people, with the number of confirmed cases standing at 80 412 against a 55% (44 331) recovery rate.
“… Armies of young people are on the frontlines of the battle of COVID-19. Young doctors, young nurses, young community health workers are screening, testing, nursing and treating our communities. Young social workers are counselling and supporting vulnerable families and individuals.
“Students and unemployed youth are volunteering their time to distribute food parcels to the most marginalised. Young activists at the forefront of social media campaigns creating awareness and providing credible information on COVID-19,” he said.
Held under the theme “Youth Power – growing South Africa together in a time of COVID-19”, the debate was held to pay tribute to students who were slain by the apartheid regime when they participated in uprisings in June 1976 against an education system that was designed to discriminate the black majority.
Manamela said young people were putting up a brave fight against the pandemic despite being particularly at risk, more especially the vulnerable and marginalised youth.
He said young people in rural areas, adolescents, girls and young women, young people living with HIV/Aids, young people of different sexual orientation and gender identities and homeless youth already experiencing challenges in accessing healthcare services and social protection.
Young people with physical and mental health conditions face an elevated risk in relation to COVID-19.
Manamela said the pandemic and the economic hardship may further fuel stigma and discrimination against certain groups of young people.
“When economic hard times come, young people are hit the hardest. In the face of this COVID-19 brute force, young people are standing their ground, putting up a fight and using their transformative youth power to defeat the pandemic,” he said.
Measures being implemented to save the academic year
Manamela said, meanwhile, that the pandemic has deeply affected the higher education sector, halting face-to-face learning and all forms of contact.
All institutions have developed their detailed strategies for remote multi-modal teaching and learning during the period of the current lockdown and all the levels.
“We have emphasised to all the institutions that no student must be left behind. We are trying to find better ways to implement effective multi-modal, augmented remote learning system by considering the use of space science and earth observation technologies and platforms in support of our plans to reach vulnerable students.
“We want to save the academic year 2020 and also save lives,” he said, adding that higher education is too important to be overpowered by COVID-19.
The department is, therefore, expanding access to higher education by building nine new TVET college campuses and a new university in Ekurhuleni.
It has also multiplied the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) investments in young people attaining higher education. These investments have been expanded to tuition, textbooks and living allowances.