Original Research

Learning in a time of crises: The learning experiences of 5th year medical students at the University of KwaZulu-Natal during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020

Andrew J. Ross
African Journal of Primary Health Care & Family Medicine | Vol 13, No 1 | a3002 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/phcfm.v13i1.3002 | © 2021 Andrew J. Ross | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 09 April 2021 | Published: 06 September 2021

About the author(s)

Andrew J. Ross, Discipline of Family Medicine, College of Health Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa


Background: The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) global pandemic led to the closure of the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) in March 2020 and the migration to online teaching for all students, with modules and assessments being modified to accommodate the new form of teaching.

Aim: The aim of this research was to assess the 5th year students’ experience of emergency on-line learning during the Family Medicine module, which was adapted in response to the pandemic.

Setting: The research was conducted among 5th year medical students at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in December 2020.

Methods: A questionnaire was used to assess the experiences of the 5th year MBChB students of on-line learning.

Results: Of the 256 students, 43.8% completed the questionnaire; 43 (38.4%) spent lockdown in an urban area; 30 (26.8%) in semi-urban and 39 (34.8%) in rural area; 34 (30.4%) always had internet connectivity; 41 (36.6%) mostly or often; and 28 (25%) sometimes or occassionally whilst 9 (8%) did not have any connectivity. Despite data bundles being provided by the UKZN, 47 did not have access to sufficient data for their academic needs. Only 35 students felt that their environment during lockdown was conducive to online learning and 71 students were not in a good headspace to engage with online learning.

Conclusion: Whilst there are undoubted advantages of online teaching and learning in terms of access and reach, this potential is limited by structural and economic factors. These issues had a major impact on the ability of students to engage with this form of instruction.


COVID-19; learning; access; online teaching; South Africa


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Crossref Citations

1. A scoping review of the literature on the impact of the COVID-19 quarantine on the psychological wellbeing of medical students
Divya I. Vythilingam, Amog Prakash, Milad Nourianpour, William U. Atiomo
BMC Medical Education  vol: 22  issue: 1  year: 2022  
doi: 10.1186/s12909-022-03803-y