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Give us a break – Physically and mentally exhausted teachers and learners need the October school holiday


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.

Teachers in South Africa are physically and mentally exhausted. Learning daily of relatives, friends and colleagues who have died and having to change your schedule continually to accommodate sick learners and colleagues is wholly draining. The short holiday will be a welcome rest.

I am a big supporter of the international cycling race Tour de France. This year the talented Tadej Pogačar caught everybody’s imagination. The young Slovenian was on his way to a victory when disaster struck: a flat tyre on a steep mountain pass. His opponents grabbed the opportunity and immediately launched an attack. But then the most beautiful moment of the Tour occurred. Tadej’s UAE team had fallen back to help him. A team member gave his bike to Tadej, who quickly caught up to the peloton and reached the top of the mountain first.

The idea of an effective team was in my thoughts again this week when the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, indicated that she wanted to cancel the October school holiday from 4 to 8 October. According to spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga, the Council of Education Ministers (CEM) and Heads of Education Departments Committee (Hedcom) had already decided to sacrifice the five days to catch up after the early start of the winter holiday due to Covid-19.

However, not one of the big unions supported the decision because apparently they were not consulted. Education is not an entity on its own; it functions in a society that consists of various related systems. It includes the holiday plans of families, and the school sports programme.

It is thus unacceptable that the Department of Basic Education (DBE) took a one-sided decision on such an important matter. That the DBE still considers the school year to be “normal”, speaks of a bureaucratic attitude and to enforce 200 school days at all costs, shows how out of touch the DBE is with what is happening at grassroots level.

This despite a never-ending third wave in which many learners and teachers have got sick and even died. On 27 July, 13,323 new infections were recorded. On August 27, a month later, it was 13,261. In the Western Cape last week 952 learners and 269 teachers contracted the virus; 35 schools had to close. The same situation is experienced all over the country. In the Northern Cape 439 learners and 54 teachers are sick with Covid. So, nothing has really changed. 

Teachers are physically and mentally exhausted. To be informed daily of relatives, friends and colleagues who have died and to change your schedule continually to accommodate sick learners and colleagues saps everyone’s energy. Nevertheless, most teachers are working unabated to complete the curriculum. Thus, it would be unfair to treat everyone the same. For hardworking teachers, the short holiday will be a welcome rest.

It is not possible to catch up on all outstanding work in five days, especially not as most schools are still rotating classes. It requires a dedicated recovery curriculum of at least five years. Five days would however make a huge difference to the wellness of teachers. Without a healthy, positive teacher corps the learning losses of the last two years will be difficult to eradicate.

For everyone involved in education, the American author Zig Ziglar has good advice: “If employers and employees (minister and teachers) can realise that they play for the same team, everyone will benefit.” Tadej won the Tour thanks to good teamwork. But the actual winners were the UAE team.

Fortunately, clear thinking won the day this time. Enjoy the short holiday, teachers! DM


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