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Call for dept to close schools, invest in online learning

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Concern as wave of Covid-19 cases wreaks havoc on learning and teaching

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THE DEPARTMENT of Basic Education must invest in online learning and close schools across the country due to the surge in Covid-19 cases and fatalities.

This is the view of the Educators Union of South Africa (Esau).

The president of the union, Sicelo Bhengu, said on Thursday that the current wave of cases had delayed the curriculum and the department had not done anything to address the situation.

“We have previously advised the department that they must invest in online learning by distributing tablets, which do not require data and do not have access to social media sites, to all learners across the country. The department has not taken that suggestion seriously. We are now in 2021 and we are again faced with the same challenges we had last year,” said Bhengu.

He said the schooling programme this year “does not provide sufficient learning and teaching for our children”.

“It is merely window dressing by the department.

“Judging from the number of learners, teachers and education staff who were infected by Covid-19, as well as the number of teachers and supporting staff that have died from this virus, and then adding in the number of days schools were forced to close due to infections, we cannot be in denial and state that there is sufficient learning taking place at our schools.

“The children are not writing examinations and are rather writing class tests. Those tests are only about an hour long. They are no longer sitting with a three-hour exam paper. Is that assessment even sufficient for them to pass or understand the work?

“The schools are also on a rotational system and there are some schools where children are in the classroom for less than 18 days a month. That will never be sufficient time for children to learn the curriculum as there is not much teaching and learning that has been taking place at schools.”

Bhengu added that the fatalities of educators, as well as that of their family members, also had a “traumatic impact” on the education system.

“We have so many teachers and principals who have died due to Covid-19. Those schools are left without a teacher or a principal. We have to take into account the trauma a classroom experiences when they learn that their teacher or principal has died.

“Also, we are all exposed to the virus and some children, as well as teachers, also have to deal with the loss of a family member who has died due to Covid-19. Some children are left orphaned and have to live with that trauma.

“There are teachers whose personal lives at home have been affected because they have to be in quarantine or are hospitalised. Teaching is then halted when this happens.”

Bhengu said online learning is the only remedy to the challenge.

“There are many schools that do not have access to running water or even hand sanitisers or masks for learners as well as teaching staff. Those challenges also pose a risk of children contracting the virus. Online learning will curb the possibility of infections at schools.”

Parents in the Northern Cape are meanwhile also worried about the spike in infections.

“It feels like we are back where we started last year. We thought that this virus would be a thing of the past by now, but it is still raging on,” a parent pointed out on Thursday.

“There are now so many cases where one hears of young children being infected by the virus. As a parent, one gets very concerned when you have to send your child to school. We wish to keep our children at home where they will be away from harm, but one also understands that they need an education. It is a tough situation,” she sighed.

Another parent said she had to make changes to her daily life due to the rotation system employed at her child’s school.

“My child only goes to school two or three days a week. There were times where my child was kept at home for about three days when they had a Covid-19 positive case. I had to hire someone to look after my child on the days when he does not have any school. That is an extra expense, but I cannot leave my child at home alone. I am fortunate as there are so many parents who are forced to leave their children home alone,” she said.

Another parent said he has not sent his child back to school after the school apparently had several positive Covid-19 cases.

“The first case was about a month ago and the school was closed for an entire week. Shortly after the first case, another case was reported. The school was not closed and only a section was sanitised. We have heard of other cases at the school. Out of fear that my child might also get infected, I then decided to keep my child at home. I cannot risk the health of not only my child but also that of my family. This virus impacts each person differently,” he said.

President Cyril Ramaphosa is set to address the nation soon on how the country intends to manage the imminent third wave.

“We can confirm to South Africans that there will be a family meeting soon,” acting Minister in the Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni said during a post-Cabinet briefing on Thursday.

Ntshavheni said the government was concerned about the increasing number of Covid-19 infections as the winter season enters full swing.