South Africa

CLASS OF 2021

Excitement and trepidation as learners return to school

Ikaya Primary School in Kayamandi on the first day back at school on 15 February, 2021. Most schools begin their first term of school on 15 February, since the reopening of schools was postponed on 15 January. Public and government schools were meant to reopen on 27 January. (Photo: Rebecca Pitt)

Learners returned to classes on Monday, after the initial 27 January date for the reopening of schools was postponed. Amidst the back to school excitement, parents were anxious over the late start to the new term and some remain concerned about Covid-precautions in school halls.

By 06.00 on 15 February, the roads were full with a familiar Monday-morning rush again – car hooters honking along the roads as if to announce the long-awaited return to school.

“Expect a bit more congestion on the road this morning; it’s back to school,” said a radio host on the station as the traffic plodded along. 

Mother Iminathi Gwabeni and son Nolutho Gwabeni stand outside the gate of Ikaya Primary School in Kayamandi. (Photo: Rebecca Pitt)

School learners – excluding the pending placement of 25,099 learners – across the nation returned to classrooms this morning.

But whilst it is all green lights for the new academic year for school kids, the school year ahead is not without challenges. Namely the ongoing transport, infrastructure and sanitation problems plaguing schools across the country.

Father Wesley King helps the rest of the King family get ready for a first day of school photo with their grandparents. (Photo: Rebecca Pitt)

Daily Maverick visited three schools in the Stellenbosch region – Idas Valley Primary School, Ikaya Primary School, and Laerskool Stellenbosch – which all reopened on Monday, together with all government schools.

Within school grounds, a familiar back-to-school excitement resonated, especially for the school kids. Still, this first day of school was different.

Back to school, different reality

Parents, no longer able to walk their kids into school to greet teachers and settle the youngsters in, said goodbye to their children at the school gates.

Outside Ikaya Primary School in Kayamandi parents stood from across the road, watching as their children stood in long lines to get screened before entering the school gates.

Parents walk their children to their first day of school in Stellenbosch. A number of parents say they are more worried that the school year has begun so late and that the terms are shorter than normal, than they are worried about Covid-19 in schools. (Photo: Rebecca Pitt)
Most schools begin their first term of school on 15 February, since the reopening of schools was postponed on 15 January. Public and government schools were meant to reopen on 27 January. (Photo: Rebecca Pitt)

It was the same at Idas Valley Primary School and Laerskool Stellenbosch. Parents waved to their kids from a distance.

For some, this year’s reopening of schools at least feels safer than last year’s.

“Last year, we were a bit scared of Covid, but this year not so much,” said Burthrim Mentoor, the dad of a Stellenbosch Laerskool pupil, who added that he was glad the school year began later so that the school could ensure all protocols were put in place.

Ilke Krügel and her sister Kadi Krügel wait for the school day to begin. Ilke is in grade three and sister Kadi is in grade R. Ilke has learnt how to make masks during the lockdown and now fashions them to school. (Photo: Rebecca Pitt)
Maybeleen Abrahams walks her son Marcus into school. Maybeleen says she is grateful that the school year has finally recommenced. (Photo: Rebecca Pitt)

Another Laerskool Stellenbosch parent, Elton Robertson, agreed that the school felt safe because the school was prepared for their students’ return.

Concerned over late start

But a number of parents raised concerns about the late start to the school year. But even if these parents had fears about Covid-precautions in the school, the school year needed to commence, they said.

“I am a bit worried,” said Iminathi Gwabeni, who was dropping off her son at the Ikaya Primary School. “Covid hasn’t ended but we want our children to go to school, we want them to get the foundation.”

A mascot welcomes the new grade ones to school at the Laerskool Stellenbosch. (Photo: Rebecca Pitt)
Nolutho Gwabeni is excited for school to be open once again he says, but his mother is worried about how the school will run amidst Covid. (Photo: Rebecca Pitt)

 A parent at Idas Valley School agreed.

“I am still a little anxious about Covid but the kids need to go back to school, we need to educate them. These terms are already so short,” said Maybeleen Abrahams.

But her son, Marcus Abrahams, said he is “excited”  for his start to grade four.

Marcus Abrahams says he is excited for grade four. (Photo: Rebecca Pitt)

Marcus, along with most schoolchildren, was upbeat about resuming classes and reuniting with his classmates.

There’s still excitement for the year

Excitement is also true for some parents despite anxieties about Covid-19 precautions in schools and the late reopening. 

“First day, feeling good,” said Wesley King, a parent at Idas Valley Primary School, who is also on the school’s governing body. King was dropping off his five children, who also said they were looking forward to going back to school and seeing their friends.

“The prep has been put in place,” he said. “We wear our masks, sanitise and keep the good measures in place.” DM

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"Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]"

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