Back to school, everyday woes

West End Primary School principal Clive Arries, who is chairperson of the Metro South Education District Principals’ Forum.

The full-time return of Mitchell’s Plain pupils to school has been received with mixed emotions.

In some schools principals and staff planned the return to “normalcy” long before the Department of Basic Education’s announcement that all pupils should return to the daily traditional school timetable as from Monday February 7 (“Not enough school capacity for growing community”, Plainsman, February 9).

Other teachers who had raised the challenges about the lack of resources to meet the demands of a growing school community, prior to the national Covid-19 lockdown, say the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) needs to do more.

Liesbeeck Primary School principal Wahied Gasant said it was all about mindset.

“If you are going to focus on those concerns you are not going to accomplish anything.

“If the focus is genuinely on the child, even if there are challenges involved, there is no way you are not going to succeed because you have to deliver to that child,” he said.

Mr Gasant had roped in parents and the school’s neighbours to ease in the pupils’ return to school.

“The school is not part of the community. The school is the community. If we, over time, change and influence the 120 Grade 7 pupils who leave the school, we have changed the mindset of our community. They are our ambassadors,” he said.

He said there were challenges but they had decided to focus on the core value of gratitude.

“This will give rise to integrity, honesty, respect and appreciation,” he said.

Melvina Adonis Rezant, chairwoman of the school governing body at the Portland school, said she was happy that her children were back at school.

“It gets the children to be more attentive to their school work and the teachers do not have to repeat work,” she said.

She said her two sons at the primary school and her oldest son at Mondale High School had adjusted well to the daily attendance.

“Yes, you do get your off days but when the children are adjusted and the parents are on board with the schools’ plan we can see a better future,” she said.

Clive Arries, chairman of the Metro South Education District Principals’ Forum, said there were schools waiting for furniture to be delivered.

He said they were addressing the matter with the WCED and that the lack of resources was hampering education.

He said as a member of the Metro South Education District Principals’ Forum, they received concerns from teachers, which were isolated and that the correct channels had to be followed.

“The department must be alerted to their shortcomings and we must do our best to orient ourselves.

“It cannot be moonlight and sunshine all of the time. There must be challenges to improve our systems and explore unknown avenues,” he said.

Mr Arries said organisations, whether it is a shop, had to be a place where strategies could be implemented, reviewed, evaluated and reintroduced.

Mitchell’s Plain schools account for 70% of the Metro South Education District (MSED) and has always been “oversubscribed”, he said.

“It is a red zone for the placement of learners in Grade 8 and Grade 1. There is a lack of infrastructure which the government must address,” he said.

As the principal of West End Primary School, in Lentegeur, Mr Arries said they had to tap into resources, shuffling the teachers’ assistants and staff to optimally address issues of sanitising hands, disinfecting classrooms and screening pupils.

He said they have had to look at the child holistically and have had to include programmes where pupils spend time outside and exercise.

Mr Arries said pupils who had been attending school on alternate days had to adjust to be at school every day.

He said they had not been in a full class before and that in some instances classrooms may have been oversubscribed.

Two high school teachers, who did not want to be named, compared their work environment to that of “a war zone”.

“It is like a ticking time bomb. Tempers can flare any time. We are dealing with it as best we can and hope for the best.

“Learners are tired. Not used to being at school all of the time.

“They have to relearn and unlearn because they had not been at school for a long time. Learners have also had to learn how to speak to teachers,” said one of the teachers.

The teacher said the pressure is on for both teachers and pupils to perform as they set curriculum targets.

The teacher said younger, inexperienced teachers were at the coalface because for the past two years they were managing small classes and now they had more than 50 pupils.

The other teacher reported an increase in absenteeism, stress and anxiety.

“This ’new normal’ is also about finding their place at the school among their peers – who are the leaders of the pack?

“Daily six to seven learners from one class are requesting permission to depart early. Adding to these challenges, many are fast asleep in the class,” read the teacher’s note to the Plainsman.

The teacher also reported a general lack of respect and pupils uttering profanities in the presence of teachers.

“I am of the opinion that the return of learners had to be done in phases as we did during the national Covid-19 lockdown level adjustments.

“The psychosocial effects on our learners was not properly considered. One child ran out of class and locked herself up in the toilet, crying,” said the concerned teacher.

Kerry Mauchline, spokesperson for Education MEC Debbie Schäfer, said that schools in the area have not reported unusual levels of absenteeism.

Four schools had reported that some pupils were sent home with tummy bugs.

“We aware that there are a couple of stomach bugs going around Cape Town, which happens every year around this time,” she said.

Ms Mauchline said the district had asked schools to report any issues with anxiety but had not yet received any reports.

Every district has a psychosocial support team that monitors and assists schools.

She said the schools’ code of conduct would inform the management of discipline in a school.

“If the school is not able to manage a certain type of behaviour, the school is encouraged to follow school-based support process (WCED support pathway). ”District support teams can assist with measures such as workshops on various topics (e.g. classroom management), and for severe cases the behaviour intervention team will provide support,“ said Ms Mauchline.

Psychosocial support is available for pupils who feel they are not coping emotionally “They should approach their teacher or principal who liaise with the support team. Psychosocial support for learners will be provided by school social workers, psychologists, counsellors, social auxiliary workers, and care and support assistants, in close collaboration with the departments of Health and Social Development, and NGOs (non-government organisations),“ she said.

Psychosocial support for staff members is also available through the Employee Health and Wellness Programme (EHWP). For more information visit https://wcedonline.westerncape.gov.za/psycho-social-support.