The schools in South Africa were supposed to re-open on the 31st of March 2020 for the second term. However, they are now technically at least five weeks late due to the lockdown. After the president announced the lockdown, learners were instructed to stay home two days before the end of term one. The learners and their teachers were instructed to stay home due to panic as a result of about 60 reported cases of Covid-19 nationwide. The lockdown was enforced as a precautionary measure. This decision by the government deserves praise as there was no reported case of an infected school child by the time of writing this article.
On the 27th of April 2020, there were about 4500 infected people with about 90 deaths. Given that schools were the first institutions to close their doors when the virus was still at its lowest level in our country, it cannot be that schools are the first institutions to open doors. The learners more especially matriculants are behind, even under the normal school calendar according to the Annual Teaching Plan, an educator will be behind from day one. It is a fact that all learners are behind with their grade content. I am referring to public schools including the quintile five schools with resources. Most independent schools closed their gates earlier than public schools.
Some educationalists advocates online teaching and learning and blame educators for not embracing the available means. But the truth of the matter is, we are not ready for online teaching and learning in South African Basic Education context. There are already high levels of inequalities in South African society and schools. Until food parcels are out of the equation then online teaching will only benefit the children of elites, in this case referring to the middle class and white community. Online learning will benefit those that their parents can afford resources (phones, laptops, and data). They will learn, write assessments, and progress towards the next grade while a poor child from a dusty area in Sekhukhune with good brains will not due to lack of resources and not being able to learn because of being hungry. Remote learning is not ideal, for example, the percentage of students that graduate at record time from the University of South Africa (UNISA) is merely 11.3 %. If adults struggle with online learning what about children?
For schools to open, very strict measures must be in place and be implemented. Few leaners in classrooms, limited contact amongst learners, no sharing of water tap, sanitization of learner toilets, chairs, and tables, monitoring of scholar transports, prohibited group walking to school and etc. This is complex work that requires a lot of time and resources. We will be simply gambling with the lives of our children. A parent will be expected to pray each and every day that their child does not get infected and spread the virus at home to their family.
The ultimate purpose of basic education is to empower and develop learners, to enrich them with knowledge and experiences so that they qualify for further education/and skills development, uplift the family and the community at large, to prepare for the world and participate in it. With the current pandemic affecting the entire globe, clearly the time is not yet right for learners and their teachers to go back to school. We must protect the safety and lives of the future of South Africa and our world.
There’s nothing that stops us to treat a school year like how corporates treat financial year, how SARS treats tax year, and how PSL treats a season. It is time to change the normal way of doing things. The proposed model of saving this school year by re-opening the schools through phases, grade by grade will be disastrous. A learner is a child at the end of the day irrespective of their grade. Even adults get infected in their workplaces vigilant as they are.
The schools were the first institutions to close their doors, they must be the last institutions to open their doors. This can only happen if the county is at level 1. If the country delays the school year by four months and finishes it next year in March let it be. A child is the future of the country and a vanguard of history.
Milton Marumo Makola