Another year with Covid in the classroom

Schools are set to reopen on Monday February 15 with teachers returning on Monday February 1.

Learning and teaching this year will once again be very different.

The Department of Basic Education (DBE) has delayed the reopening of both private and public schools while the country is in the grip of a second wave of Covid-19 infections. School will now reopen on Monday February 15. Teacher return on Monday February 1.

According to Deputy Minister of Basic Education Dr Reginah Mhaule, the pre-Covid-19 school calendar would have seen schools go back on Wednesday January 13. The arrival of the pandemic changed that leading to revisions that would have seen pupils returning on January 27 this year, but the second wave has pushed that date back too.

“What is required now,” Dr Mhaule said, “is absolute vigilance, alertness and, most of all, strict adherence to the health, safety, and social distancing measures that have been put in place.”

Western Cape Education Department spokeswoman Bronagh Hammond said schools in the province were “well versed” on existing Covid-19 safety measures.

“Any changes will be issued through amended directions by DBE. We await any further changes. Once we have received this, we will be best able to advise schools on how to address their timetables and curriculum requirements.”

Teacher Ricardo Adamson said a shorter term would likely put a lot of pressure on schools and pupils to get though all the work, especially as they were still playing catch-up from last year.

While he was worried for his safety, he said teachers had worked through last year’s infection peak and had managed to follow the necessary safety measures.

“During the past weeks, many teachers died,” he said. “It is a scary time for us all, this virus has evolved.”

Alessio Marcus, chairman of the Representative Council of Learners for the Western Cape, said schools should reopen but the government should take all necessary steps to protect pupils.

“I would’ve expected the ministry of education to consult with the learner leaders because child participation is of utmost importance especially when it comes to decisions that will directly affect us,” he said.

Klaas Sarels, of Tafelsig, has daughters in matric and Grade 11 at Cedar High School of Arts. They were looking forward to returning to school and had been disappointed to hear about the delayed reopening.

“This may have a bad effect on them because they are losing out on work,” he said. “They now have limited time in class with work.”

But he is also worried about his daughters being exposed to the virus.

“The area where I live, they don’t follow protocols. With the period they are at home, you don’t know who the pupils were in contact with. Ninety percent of the time my daughters are at home.”

Zaida Julius is the director of Edubiz Media and part of the Progressive Principals Associations. She has mixed feelings about the delayed reopening and said that while it made sense as a safety precaution, it was a further blow to education. .

“The education of our pupils is suffering severely, and they might never be able to catch up. Concerns have been carried over from last year regarding safety and not enough infrastructure at schools, which has still not been addressed.”

Instead of letting children roam the streets while the schools were closed, the government needed to do more to make e-learning available to them, she said.

“We have thousands of SIM cards that give pupils unlimited data free access to the DBE CAPs aligned e-school. Why does government not support us in rolling it out and get these cards into the hands of the learners?”

Some schools were tapping into it with great success, Ms Julius said, but more were needed. “We cannot sit and wait for schools to open, we need to do more on e-learning as that is the future.”