Deploying health workers in schools, adding extra hours to the school day, adding another school day and introducing school camps or hostels are just some of the suggestions to salvage this academic year.
These suggestions have ignited a debate that has raged on among citizens about how government should best minimise the impact of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic on the education sector.
Some people are in support of reopening schools, but others, such as Nivesh Ramlal, a teacher in KwaZulu-Natal, have called on government to shelve the idea until a vaccine for Covid-19 is found.
Teachers, pupils, parents and civil society groups voiced their views to City Press as Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga is set to table proposals before Cabinet this week, which could drastically change the academic calendar.
Nomtandazo Mvinjelwa, a teacher, proposed that the phasing in of Grade 12 and Grade 7 be done at the beginning of May.
“The most important issue will be health, which must be taken into consideration. The health and education sectors must work hand in hand. Pupils, together with teachers, must be screened in schools and the communities in which pupils are coming from must be closely monitored. Cooperation among these sectors can give us a breakthrough.
“The families of pupils must adhere to lockdown conditions to avoid the spread of the virus. Health workers must be stationed at our schools to ensure the safety of all the people in the school premises,” Mvinjelwa said.
Grade 12 pupil Tamryn Kritzinger said she was worried about this year, not only because of the workload they were expected to deal with but because of the impact of the lockdown.
“My school implemented extra classes from the beginning of the year. This included every Wednesday until 4.30pm. We did a good amount of work. Personally, I don’t think taking holidays will work. First of all, I think that we will be overworked and stress levels will rise. I believe that a type of a hostel scenario should be implemented. We can keep the lockdown without endangering the progress of matrics this year.
“I do see difficulty in having a scenario like this because not all schools are able [to have facilities], but I believe it will help so many and help us to keep up with our school work. It will keep teachers and matriculants in school, so that we can get ahead and not fall behind. I believe it’s a scenario worth looking into,” Kritzinger said.
Zanele Masuku, an academic at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said the country could not afford to lose even two months of teaching time.
“I suggest that May and June be used to teach pupils. I am not for the idea that schools start in August; that will be too late. By that time pupils would have forgotten everything that they have learnt.
“My suggestion is that the basic education department should make use of May and June, take a break in the first two weeks in July, then schools re-open in the third week of July and the programme run through to December. Exams can be 80% of the initial set curriculum,” Masuku said.
Another concerned party, Dun Cube, said the only sensible thing that could be done was to avoid overcrowding.
“Schools could have two sessions – for grades 11 and 12 from the morning until 1pm, and other grades from 1pm to 5pm. This is the only way to respect social distancing and still cover the curriculum,” Cube said.
Denzil Moodley said Saturdays should be made compulsory school days for all grades.
He said parents should be encouraged to consider digital classes, but schools should keep track of pupils’ progress. However, it should not be forced on parents to send their children to school.
“This will eliminate and alleviate pupils from walking around with uniforms and not attending school or classes,” Moodley said.
Shakira Akabor, a PhD candidate in inclusive education at the Wits School of Education, agrees with Motshekga’s proposal to scrap holidays and use the 2021 year to catch up on missed work.
“However, I also have some ideas on how implementation can be eased in during this lockdown period without wasting time entirely.
“Research has shown that most households in South Africa have a TV set. As such, this should be the best way to reach and teach our pupils, based on the model of a ‘learning channel’, which is to have qualified teachers offer their services on television, with a corresponding WhatsApp line to take queries and questions from the pupils.
“The bulk of the airtime can be given to critical subjects. Priority time should ideally go to subjects such as mathematics, languages, science and accounting. Subjects can be covered by grade, such as Grade 8 mathematics at 10am and Grade 9 mathematics at 11am. These can be further divided into textbook coverage.
“These channels can be free to air, and I believe DStv has made available some channels free of charge on its digital platform too,” Akabor said.
Theodorah Sigauke of The Gift Christian Academy, a not-for-profit organisation offering digital literacy, was disappointed that Motshekga’s proposal included that school would not be closed for June and September holidays.
“I was like: ‘That’s it?’ The country will only be on lockdown until the April 30, surely things would not have changed by then considering the pace of testing. If we are forced to go back to normal we will be heading for disaster because that is where we will be spreading the virus. This might continue for months.
“The minister has no proper planning, she is not even telling us what will happen to crowded schools; how will we social distance?”
Sigauke said government needed to make data and laptops loaded with study material available to matriculants.
“Or they should be taken by groups to camps and quarantined, taught there for the duration of the lockdown. The universe is forcing us to enter into the digital era as South Africa. It is now that we should really see the goodness or cleverness and promptness of these so-called leaders of ours. If they have money to waste on corruption, they also have money to do good.
“If the minister has only one plan, I am here to assist in coming with solutions. But the main thing is that data must fall,” Sigauke said.
Ramlal said Motshekga was focusing on the wrong issue.
"Grade 12 pupil Tamryn Kritzinger said she was worried about this year, not only because of the workload they were expected to deal with but because of the impact of the lockdown."