Mitigating the digital divide in the South African higher education system in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic

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9 Citations (Scopus)


Access to higher education has been one of the critical areas of concern in South Africa, particularly for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. The Corona-virus (Covid-19) pandemic has brought the systemic cleavages into sharp relief, with ‘access’ and subsequent ‘success’ emerging as an important variable. Availability of digital facilities and internet connectivity have been important factors in enabling participation in higher education during the Covid-19 pandemic. The advent of the pandemic has, however, brought a new context to the challenges of higher education access, deepening the precarious position of students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Thus, online teaching and learning intensified the digital divide between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’, exacerbating the already existing inequalities in the South African higher education system. The paper reflects on the question of how digital divide and access to learning infrastructure exacerbated inequality among students during the Covid-19 pandemic in South African higher education. This question is particularly important, given the rapid digitalisation of the curriculum that many South African institutions are still struggling to align with. This paper aims to interrogate the implications of the Covid-19 pandemic on South African higher education, highlighting the challenges of the digital divide and access to learning infrastructure using a social justice approach. The article draws on the work of Fraser (1999), which refers to the idea of social justice as distributional justice, re-allocating resources accessed solely by the privileged to the historically disadvantaged. It also aims to understand how the typology of inequality across the differentiated institutions affected the delivery of education during Covid-19. This is a qualitative research based on both secondary and primary data exploring official documents, statistics and published materials. The article argues towards a comprehensive and inclusive digital learning strategies with substantial coordination both from government and non-government stakeholders. It recommends that digital pedagogy and online platforms of learning should become an integral element of South African higher education services to ensure the continuity of education; this is necessary to avoid similar difficulties if crises that restrict physical movement occur in the future.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)197-211
Number of pages15
JournalPerspectives in Education
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • Covid-19 pandemic
  • South Africa
  • digital divide
  • higher education
  • social justice

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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