After a two-week delay, schools reopened on Monday. Despite the optimism of the new school year, the pandemic has highlighted the challenges in previously disadvantaged schools.
The second wave of Covid-19 infections delayed the start of the school year. Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga briefed the media on the state of readiness for the opening of schools. Since the start of the pandemic nearly a year ago, 1,169 teachers and 63 non-teaching staff have died from Covid-19, said the minister.
“This is really heart-breaking, and we convey our sincere condolences to the affected families,” she said.
The health and safety of educators, staff and learners is a top priority, said Motshekga. Schools are expected to follow safety protocols like social distancing, hand sanitising and mask-wearing.
Social media uproar
Motshekga’s speech was overshadowed by a gaffe she made about gender-based violence, claiming that educated men do not rape. It was the children who quickly corrected her.
While addressing pupils at Prospectus High School in Pretoria during an oversight visit for the reopening of schools, Basic Education @DBE_SA Minister Angie Motshekga told children that "an educated man won't rape".#angiemotshekga #letswalkthetalk https://t.co/45DRJ5nPoz— 702 (@Radio702) February 15, 2021
Still, the social media furore threatened to overshadow the real challenges of the new school year. As children across the country returned to the classroom, more than 16,000 learners have not been assigned a school because of a shortage of capacity, said the minister.
What’s more, schools in previously disadvantaged areas are concerned they will not be able to keep up with the learning outcomes outlined in the academic calendar.
Setting sanitiser alight
At one school visited by Health-e News, an educator who has taught Life Sciences for more than 20 years said the experience was extremely stressful.
“We cannot do online teaching because many of our kids come from a poor background and do not even have a laptop or any data,” she said.
“Despite safety measures put in place at the school, some learners do not wear their masks and have sprayed the alcohol sanitizer on desks and set it alight,” she revealed.
Part of the reopening of schools included orientation and the code of conduct along with the receiving their schedules.
“The parents need to help us because we will not be able to let them do the activities in class. This need to be done at home and then we revise it at school,” she said.
Lapse in learning
Another educator, who teaches English, explained that the reduced time in class made it difficult to complete the syllabus. With a staggered timetable, students are not completing assignments on the days they do not have to be at school.
Still, she said it was an encouraging sign that school were re-opening although the risk of Covid-19 continues.
“Social distancing is maintained in classrooms but we have very little control over that during the intervals and dismissal times,” she said.
Another teacher pointed out that the onus to push learners to catch up fast really lay with teachers. But that is a challenge with classes so large they have to be split in two. Each grade attends school twice a week, except for grade 12s who attend classes daily.
In the meantime, learners and teachers with comorbidities may work from home.—Health-e News