Opinionista

Covid challenges: As we emerge from our winter of discontent, let’s bridge the education gap

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Professor Michael le Cordeur is the head of the Department of Curriculum Studies at the University of Stellenbosch.

With the matric exams starting in two weeks and with most teachers and matrics vaccinated, all matrics should now be able to return to class, as also the Grade 1 pupils who must learn to read and write. Slowly, South Africans are able to resume their ‘normal’ lives.

It is Day 564 of the Covid-19 pandemic. The third wave was much worse than expected. Many people (including me) lost family, friends and colleagues. This is the pain of Covid-19. Like many citizens I am overjoyed that we are at Level 1 of the lockdown. I do not, however, agree with all the latest regulations. To allow 750 people indoors and 2,000 outdoors is illogical and can only be politically motivated.

There is also a good side. October is the most beautiful month, as attested in the poem by C Louis Leipoldt. Hopefully, teachers have taken their classes outdoors to welcome spring. Maybe to sing a song to celebrate the passing of winter, in all senses.

Nearly 19 million vaccination jabs have been administered. This includes more than 60% of adults above 60. Unfortunately, only 34% of all adults have been vaccinated. Young people set the example when 500,000 turned up on day one when 18-year-olds could be vaccinated. As more South Africans are vaccinated, we move gradually towards herd immunity. With the matric exams starting in two weeks and with most teachers and matrics vaccinated, all matrics should now be able to return to class, as also the Grade 1 pupils who must learn to read and write. Slowly, South Africans are able to resume their “normal” lives.

Against this background and to remind us how beautiful the Boland is at this time of year, we drove to Ashton to see the impressive new bridge – 8,000 tons of steel and concrete was converted into an ultramodern bridge by the side of the road. With the assistance of technology it was moved into its real site within six hours: safe and effective access over the Cogmanskloof River to this lovely Boland town. Indeed it is an engineering marvel which filled me with hope for the future. If we know what the problem is, we can solve it. If the right people with the right skills are used, success is guaranteed.

Ditto for education. Our country struggles with many education challenges. I must stress once again that nearly 3,000 schools still have pit latrines. Someone needs to listen. A big concern is the current Grade 2 class which lost so much tuition in 2020 that they can hardly read or write. This and many other education problems can be bridged if the right people are appointed: dedicated people who approach their task purposefully.

Thus it is gratifying to hear that the minister of basic education has announced strategic priorities to reconstruct an education sector battered by Covid. It involves technology training for teachers and an effective accountability system for principals. Of great importance is that historically disadvantaged pupils will get access to niche subjects like engineering and computer technology. This will enable them to develop medical breakthroughs (vaccines) and engineering products (modern bridges).

More than ever it is important to train our young people and equip them with skills for the 21st century. Then they will become the bridge giving everyone access to a new season of hope for all South Africans. DM

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