Staff urged to be compassionate without compromising teaching quality

13 October 2020 | Story Barbara Friedman. Photo Michael Hammond. Read time 6 min.

The vice-chancellor of the University of Cape Town (UCT), Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, says that the university is ready for the end-of-year exams and speaks about how it will provide equitable resources to all students.

Covid-19 and lockdown catapulted the education system into the digital realm.

From primary school classes to university lecture halls, it all had to be done online, and efficiently so.

As universities and colleges prepare for their end-of-year exams, after months of having to learn remotely, Lester Kiewit talks to UCT Vice-Chancellor, Mamokgethi Phakeng about how the university is managing to provide equitable resources to all students, rich and poor.

How will exams be conducted this year?

Phakeng says UCT is ready for exams.


After the first semester exams, we conducted a university-wide analysis of the marks...and we have data analytics for students' success project.

This was to determine how results may or may not have changed over this period based on two criteria, the median of the course, and the spread of standard deviation.


The findings show an overall strong high-level trend of a higher radian and lower standard deviation.

She says the university is of the view that there may be several explanations for this trend.


It is not always that students are cheating.

Phakeng says the first explanation could be that it is possible that there was grade inflation.


A way to think about this is sympathy marking. Universities were thrown into emergency teaching and we were supposed to turn a residential term into remote teaching.

She says the conditions for students were less than ideal, and it would not be surprising if staff compensated by, for example, setting less taxing assessments, or even marking less stringently.


We did encourage our staff to be compassionate without compromising the quality of teaching.

She adds that another explanation for the high marks could be a higher quality of teaching and learning.


We have many anecdotal accounts of better quality engagement from both students and staff.

Listen to the interview

This article was first published by CapeTalk.

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