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Coronavirus: An opportunity for self-development

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Prof Michael le Cordeur is Vice-Dean Teaching and Learning in the Faculty of Education at the University of Stellenbosch. He is deputy chair of the Stigting vir die bemagtiging deur Afrikaans.

Use this coronavirus crisis for self-development so that, when everything is back to normal, you will be in a better position.

South Africa finds itself in its biggest crisis since democracy. Since the coronavirus, known as Covid-19, originated in China in December 2019, it has spread to 140 countries. Worldwide, more than 170,000 people have been infected with the virus, of which more than 6,700 have died. 

It looks as if China has reached a tipping point – the result of a successful turnaround strategy during which 500-million people were successfully kept in quarantine.

By Wednesday this week,  116 people in South Africa had tested positive for Covid-19. The numbers change by the hour. President Cyril Ramaphosa recently declared Covid-19 a State of National Disaster and announced various measures to combat the virus.  The large number of Aids and tuberculosis patients, and huge poverty make us more vulnerable than first world countries.

So how safe are our schools and universities? There is one problem which should concern educators: Our schools are overcrowded. Just last week, I visited a school with 68 learners in a classroom. Covid-19 is highly contagious. An overly full class where children sit two to a desk is a great risk. Pleas to the education department to enforce the 34 per class rule more strictly have been ignored.

Universities are also under the whip and had to take in more students due to government pressure. To date, Wits, UJ, UCT and more recently, Stellenbosch University suspended, or partially suspended their classes until further notice.

The president announced that schools will close earlier for the holiday. But is that the solution? 

Most learners come from impoverished families and informal settlements with little or no sanitation. Children are exposed to unhygienic conditions without running water to wash their hands. Parents are obliged to work and children will be left to their own devices. It is an open question where learners will be safest: At home without supervision, or in the school where learners can be supervised to wash their hands regularly.

Winston Churchill said: “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” During previous crises, the curriculum was adapted to focus on the dangers of Aids and the effects of the drought. In this case, learners can make posters about the symptoms of Covid-19, or how it can be treated; for example. These can be displayed in public places. 

This teaches children to solve problems and presents opportunities to entrepreneurs – such as how to make your own face mask. Teachers and lecturers can now register for that course they have always wanted to do, but didn’t have the time for. Use this crisis for self-development so that, when everything is back to normal, you will be in a better position.

Difficult decisions lie ahead for education authorities. The lack of hygienic neighbourhoods, proper housing and equipped clinics will exacerbate the pandemic. It is especially the poor that will be hardest hit. Isolation is not an option for many. Due to the high rate of unemployment, people must leave their homes for food and medicine.

So, beware: Hard times lie ahead! DM

Professor Le Cordeur is a former teacher and school principal. He is currently the head of the Department of Curriculum Studies in the Faculty of Education at Stellenbosch University.

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