The Santaco-Western Cape minibus taxi strike and associated violence had a devastating effect on teaching and learning in the Western Cape. The sudden announcement of the strike on Thursday, 3 August 2023, created a serious challenge for children travelling home from school. There was no warning, so our parents and schools could not make other plans.
We have all heard stories of children arriving home late into the night, while frantic parents tried to locate them. And we have also heard about the incredible generosity and ingenuity of our schools:
- Mowbray residents rallied together to assist 11 learners from Thandokhulu High School who were stranded on that Thursday night, by providing food and sleeping materials;
- Four learners from Silverlea Primary School and Garlandale High School, who live in Khayelitsha, could not make it home, so our Western Cape Education Department officials sprang into action to put them up in a guest house and arranged meals and toiletries for them;
- At Noluthando School for the Deaf, 16 learners could not travel home out of Khayelitsha, so the school arranged for them to spend the night at a teacher’s house; and
- Wynberg Girls’ High School opened their hostel to learners and staff who could not make it home – 15 learners and five security guards spent the night safely in the hostel.
In this climate of uncertainty and fear, 287,420 learners and 9,508 school staff were not able to attend school on Friday, 4 August.
Our #BackOnTrack extra classes due to be held for grades 4, 7, 8 and 12 learners on Saturday, 5 August, had to be cancelled, so the 14,000 learners offered these classes were unable to receive the extra support they need to get #BackOnTrack after the pandemic.
On Monday, 7 August, absenteeism increased to 456,020 learners and 17,449 staff members absent, with 27 schools closed due to violence in the surrounding areas.
Monday also saw an extraordinary amount of fake news being spread on social media, causing absolute chaos for our schools as unverified claims of threats prompted parents to collect their children from school. Moreover, officials had to divert their time and attention from dealing with the strike itself to instead having to chase down wild rumours and rebut them.
It is likely that this extreme volume of fake news contributed to the peak level of absenteeism on Tuesday, 8 August, with 852,259 learners and 17,725 staff members absent, and 92 schools closed – 71% of our learners did not attend school that day, in effect destroying teaching and learning in the Western Cape.
The public holiday on 9 August provided a brief pause, but did little to improve attendance. The Superintendent-General wrote to schools providing directions as the strike was set to continue longer than originally stated.
While there were 124,012 more learners and 5,699 more staff members attending school on Thursday, 10 August, there were still 728,247 learners and 12,026 school staff absent from school, and 48 schools closed.
Since the strike was called off so late on Thursday night, parents, teachers and schools did not have sufficient time to make arrangements to attend school on Friday, 11 August, so 739,569 learners and 5,533 school staff members remained absent.
The #BackOnTrack Saturday classes held on 12 August also suffered from poor attendance. Thankfully, parents heeded our call to return their children to school on Monday, 14 August, with just 132,983 learners and 3,668 staff members absent, which was a vast improvement from the previous week.
While we were faced with the real threat of physical damage to our schools, we are thankful that none of our schools reported incidents of damage to property as a result of the strike.
But the real damage comes in the form of lost teaching and learning time. The tragedy is that the areas most affected by this strike are the very same areas most affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, and thus the areas that can least afford to have children miss school.
Teachers will evaluate the impact the strike has had on the learners in their class, which will inform the catch-up plans, and the department will provide the support needed to do so.
The exact amount of teaching and learning time lost varies according to how many days of school each learner missed. One class may have had five learners who missed school, while another may have had 30, and all for a differing number of days. So, this will need to be tailored to the classroom level.
This is sadly not the first time our schools have had to make these plans, given the experience of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the lengthy blockade of learner transport earlier this year in the Khayelitsha area. We will support our schools as needed to make sure the missed content is covered.
But the bottom line is this: We simply cannot afford to compromise our children’s futures by losing any more teaching and learning time. DM