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Learners weigh in on the implications of reopening scho...



Learners weigh in on the implications of reopening schools

Learners participate in the webinar organised by Media Monitoring Africa to provide them with a platform to discuss Covi-19 and how it has impacted on young people. (Screenshot: Ayanda Mthethwa)

Schoolchildren are anxious about what it will mean for them and the health of pupils if schools indeed are reopened.

Do you think it is a good idea to reopen schools while we are seeing the number of infections increase?

How will we recover time lost since we went into lockdown?

Is it true that the Department of Basic Education has failed to meet the safety requirements so far?

Above are some of the tough and relevant questions that learners asked during a webinar session titled Getting to Grips, organised by Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) on Tuesday 12 May. 

In each series, the webinar sessions seek to deliberate on uncertainties and questions that learners and the youth have about the coronavirus. 

Tuesday’s webinar attempted to take a bite out of learners’ anxieties about the reopening of schools while the world battles with Covid-19. 

Blessing Motaung, a learner and a participant in the webinar, started the session by asking how time lost as a result of the lockdown will be recovered.

Responding to participants’ questions was Likho Bottoman, the deputy director of social mobilisation and support at the Department of Basic Education (DBE). 

“For us to be able to catch up with the curriculum that has been lost we were proposing that there should be a way to extend the school day, to make sure that learners have enough time to catch up,” he said. 

Roughly 37 days have been lost from the school calendar since Covid-19 was declared a National Disaster and school doors were shut in South Africa. 

The DBE has been deliberating about plans to reopen schools for some time now, and those plans have been repeatedly questioned by unions, parents, and the public. 

There is no indication of when schools will definitely open, except for 1 June as a tentative date for the return of grades 12 and 7. But the minister, Angie Motshekga, is set to announce final dates during a briefing on Thursday 14 May. 

Another participant, who introduced himself as Resegofadistwe, pointed out that although grades 12 and 7 are understandably prioritised in the phasing-in approach, what would become of learners who are in early childhood development centres (ECDs) and are meant to enrol for Grade 1 in 2021?

Bottoman said although early childhood development was scheduled to be moved to the DBE, that process has been delayed by the lockdown. 

“We need to change the laws that govern ECDs first before we can take over them as an education sector.” 

Government support has not been visible for ECDs during this time, and as it stands these centres are facing an imminent threat of shutting down if they are not reopened earlier than September because parents cannot afford to pay fees. 

And because the shift has not happened, the DBE has been scant on details surrounding the reopening of ECDs, with little to no information being shared by the Department of Social Development as the one still mandated to support the sector.  

A common thread in the participants’ line of questioning was the concern of safety, particularly ensuring that school grounds and other facilities comply with Covid-19 school safety standards.

“What if we get to June and then we move back to Level 5 with increased cases and deaths, what will happen to the proposed plan? Is there a backup plan?” asked another participant who identified herself as Wati. 

To which, with a chuckle, Bottoman replied: “You just made me panic”. 

He said suggestions were made that if the trajectory of the virus escalates, the focus will be directed towards covering what remains of the curriculum into the second week of December, then schools close. 

“And only write final exams in the following year, between January and March. But we are all optimistic that we are going to continue on Level 4, in fact proceed to graduate to Level 3 so that we are able to move forward.” 

Valencia Kekana opined to Bottoman that the DBE should rather deal with Grade 12 and Grade 1 learners more urgently, and progress all the other grades.  

“As long as there is no vaccine, nothing will change. The virus is still there.

“For grades 12 and 7, you can implement a [system] whereby in a day they can attend only three subjects or four. One thing I am sure of is that you are going to be held accountable should the virus/disease be spread amongst learners,” she said. 

Bottoman remarked that no school will open if personal protective equipment is not provided and none of the hygiene requirements are in place. 

“The likelihood is that our schools are not all going to open at the same time because not all of them are going to be ready at the same time,” he said. DM


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