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There is a school near each of us that needs our help

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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.

Schooling is in the process of resuming but under dramatically changed circumstances. Most of us have a school near us – we can all help to get them up and running again.

After more than nine weeks of lockdown, teachers have returned to schools while grade 12 and 7 learners will return on 1 June. This was confirmed by President Cyril Ramaphosa on the evening of Sunday 24 May. He also emphasised that parents were allowed to school their children at home and that there had been wide consultation. Nevertheless, the country is divided.

Unions are not convinced that all schools are ready. According to the Suid-Afrikaanse Onderwysersunie (SAOU), 73% of schools have indicated that they are ready, while teachers’ unions Naptosa and SADTU have asked members to remain at home if their schools are not fully ready. Worldwide it is clear that where significant success has been achieved in combating the virus, political leaders could depend on a culture of unity among their citizens. Therefore, the debate in education circles will be of concern to the president.

Spare a thought for the school principals. They are under extreme pressure. One aspect which needs urgent attention, is replacements for teachers with co-morbidities and those older than 60. Ramaphosa has requested that these teachers should work from home.

Have a look on YouTube at the Welcome Back video of Noorder-Paarl High School. I was impressed by the state of readiness of the school. Clearly there is a culture of unity at the school, whose learners come chiefly from the working class.

Should matters run according to plan, I hope schools will focus on the coronavirus on the first school day of the new semester. Children can be very persuasive. It is the ideal opportunity to get the right information into the community.

The coronavirus has indicated anew that everyone must think innovatively about education. Many aspects will have to change. One of those is the matter of whose responsibility is education. The saying “It takes a village to educate a child” still proves to be true. It must now be clear that the government just does not have the capacity to do everything alone. It will require a united effort from the state, the private sector, the unions and the community.

Businesses can donate sanitising products. Jobless dads can help clean the school and former students can provide a helping hand in sifting the learners. Mothers can make masks in the school colours. It can be a powerful uniting action! Parents can no longer use poverty as an excuse. What is of importance is what you do for your school.

Many citizens would like to help, if they are given the opportunity. The NG Church Stellenberg made their hall available to a school which does not have sufficient space to maintain social distancing. Tutors with computers will be available in the hall to assist learners who were excluded from online lessons. Members of the congregation will help to supervise children when their parents soon return to work.

The crisis is far from over. There is a school near each of us which needs our help. In this time, it is not social distancing which will carry us through, but rather the extent to which we reach out to each other. We can all lend a hand. DM

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