Schools taking strain

Beacon Hill Secondary School principal Gregory Kannemeyer says the school needs more resources to prepare for more grades to arrive.

Schools need more substitute teachers and psychosocial support for pupils, says Greg Kannemeyer, the principal of Beacon Hill Secondary School in Beacon Valley.

He was among teachers, school-governing body members and residents protesting peacefully with placards, wearing masks and physically distancing, on the corner of Imperial Street and AZ Berman Drive on Tuesday June 30.

On Monday July 6, Grades R, 1, 2, 3, 6, 10 and 11 are returning to schools as part of the Department of Basic Education’s phased approach.

Early childhood development centres, schools for pupils with severe intellectual disabilities (Grades R, 1, 2, 3 and 6); and special care centres for pupils with severe and profound intellectual disabilities (Years 1 to 3) as well as school of skills pupils (Years 2 and 3) will also be retuning next week.

On Monday August 3, Grades 4, 5, 8 and 9 pupils are set to return to school in addition to school of skills pupils (Year 1) and Grade 4 and 5 pupils at schools for pupils with severe intellectual disabilities.

Mr Kannemeyer said there were no substitute teachers at the moment and some pupils had comorbidities, which was something that should be considered in the current situation.

“We are doing the best with the necessary support with skeleton staff. We are happy to give support where we can as a school, but we will be running low on teaching staff when the next grades of pupils arrive next week from Monday July 6.”

We will be compromising our health and quality education can’t take place with no support,” he said.

The Grade 12 pupils attend school every day. Grade 11 pupils will return to school on Monday July 6, to attend school three days a week and Grade 10 pupils will return to school on Tuesday July 7, to attend school twice a week. Two grades are to occupy space at school, at a time.

The school is operating under the TREP (temporary revised education plan) under Covid-19. Government schools are at a disadvantage under the lockdown period. “We will suffer,” said Mr Kannemeyer.

“Quality education for every child in every classroom is impossible with all the compounded fears and anxieties of learners and teachers.”

Pupils open themselves up for learning in the afternoon as they come to school in the morning with all that anxiety and fear from home, said Mr Kannemeyer.

He said teachers are putting in a lot, especially with remote teaching with other grades who are at home.

“Teachers are in school teaching; pupils are attending school but education department head office and district (staff) are not in their offices or on the ground working. They work remotely, from home but we are all out at school teaching and risking our lives,” said Mr Kannemeyer.

They will take 2021 as it comes, he said. They will keep practising the new norms as life as they know it won’t go back to normal. “The education system needs to be re-imagined,” he said.

Alumni and mentor Juven Rittles said teachers may die and nothing else will matter. “Covid-19 has turned the times, chasing children to the slaughter house,” he said. Sending children to school at this time is an irrational decision. “We shouldn’t be led by politicians but by professionals in the space,” he said.

Deputy principal Ashley Albertyn said every time a teacher dies it affects their psyche as teachers.

Teacher Athraah Salie said it is their innate nature to want to teach but not at the sacrifice of pupils. “As teachers we have sacrificed isolating from our families to be at work. We come to school with anxiety, fear we feel we are not being advocated for or protected,” she said. “We cannot teach in this pandemic effectively the way we are supposed to.”

With more pupils making their way to school next week, it will be challenging especially with a surge in Covid-19 cases.

Debbie Schäfer, MEC for Education, said in a statement on Monday June 29 they’ve seen the disruption of schooling by community members and civic organisations.

“It is clear that there is a lot of mobilisation among various organisations around the fact that schools are open, and in anticipation of more pupils returning to school on Monday July 6. It is particularly interesting that this appears to be happening in the Western Cape more than anywhere else, while Gauteng has a higher number of active cases now than we do.

“These organisations claim to have the safety of teachers and learners at heart. However, it is their own actions that are putting our pupils’ and teachers’ lives at risk. Video evidence shows people entering schools, and organisations taking learners to the streets, not wearing their masks correctly, nor adhering to physical distancing,” she said.

“While I completely understand the anxiety and concern of teachers and parents, I also have to ensure that our system functions. We are, like our colleagues in health, providing a public service,” she said.

If there is a time for teamwork, it is now. Divisive, disruptive and irresponsible behaviour cannot and will not be tolerated, said Ms Schäfer.

There will be another protest and placard demonstration tomorrow, Thursday July 2, in AZ Berman Drive, Morgenster Road, Spine Road, Highlands Drive, Eisleben Road and Merrydale Avenue from 7am to 8.30am.