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NC Education dept ready for second term, while national dept mulls ‘full return’ of primary school pupils


While some schools have been allowed to have 100% attendance after they made submissions to the department, others, particularly disadvantaged schools, still have pupils attending on a rotational basis.

File picture: Thobile Mathonsi/African News Agency (ANA)

WITH the school second term set to start on Monday, the national Department of Basic Education is busy deliberating on the possibility of all primary school pupils returning to school “full time”.

The Northern Cape Department of Education meanwhile says it is ready to welcome back pupils, teachers and education staff for the first day of the new term.

Provincial department spokesperson Lehuma Ntuane said schools will continue to apply the “rotational” approach until the national department announces otherwise.

Ntane said that health and safety protocols will continue to be practised, with social distancing, the wearing of masks and handwashing being the basic hygiene practices that will be adhered to at all times.

“The schools went on recess on April 23, 2021, which marked the end of the first term as schools started late this year due to Covid-19. We are happy that things have gone well and that learners will return to the classroom. We want to urge learners, teachers and teaching staff to continue to adhere to the health and safety regulations that have been put in place for their own safety and health. We also want to urge parents to continue to support learners,” said Ntuane.

He added that the national department is currently investigating the possibility of all primary school pupils resuming full-time attendance due to concerns over the loss of learning time suffered due to the pandemic.

“The proposal is now being considered at the National Joint Operation and Intelligence Structure (NatJoints), where the department has since delivered a presentation regarding the work streams. The Council of Education will also consider the matter this week. An announcement on the outcome of the discussion will be made in due course,” said Ntuane.

The national Department of Basic Education’s announcement late last month that it was in talks about primary school pupils possibly resuming full-time attendance, sparked debate about the health risk to children and teachers as opposed to the loss of valuable teaching time.

While some schools have been allowed to have 100% attendance after they made submissions to the department, others, particularly disadvantaged schools, still have pupils attending on a rotational basis.

The rotational model, where children attend school only a few days a week, was implemented to ensure that physical distancing takes place in schools in line with Covid-19 regulations. There have been concerns that the model was not working and was to the detriment of pupils.

Basic Education Department spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga confirmed last month that meetings were held to discuss the issue.

“Since the matter was discussed, the next thing for us is to put together a proposal. From there, we will consult with the teachers’ unions, school governing bodies as well as other stakeholders. But we are not there yet,” he said at the time.

National Teachers Union (Natu) general secretary Cynthia Barnes said that if the plan was approved it would be risking the lives of both teachers and parents.

The department’s main reason to opt for the full return of primary pupils was that they were at low risk of being infected, she said.

“We do understand when they say that the younger children may not be at risk … however, they might spread the virus to older people at home and teachers,” she stressed.

She said the current curriculum was set in a manner that accommodated pupils regardless of how many days they attended school.

“We do not understand what the main reason is behind this proposal as we believe that this simply puts the lives of teachers and parents at risk. The department must provide us with details on how they will ensure the safety of teachers,” she said.

Barnes said there was a shortage of teachers at schools and many of them were at home because they were regarded as being at risk and had comorbidities.

She said there were several vacant posts for teachers who had died from Covid-19 and these have yet to be filled.

“This is going to be a disaster. Pupils would be floating around in school not doing anything. This means there would also be many children who are not being monitored, and they would find themselves not complying with social distancing or even wearing a mask.”

Anthea Cereseto, chief executive of the Governing Body Foundation, said the department had a tough decision to make.

She said that since Covid-19 “looked like it was here to stay”, it would not be possible to keep children away from school forever. She said that sending children to school would not necessarily expose them to the virus.

“Children are already mixing with other children in society. This means they are already exposing themselves and their parents to the virus. The department needs to ensure it takes all measures into consideration … this includes the safety of teachers and parents,” said Cereseto.

If the department comes out with a proper proposal on how they would ensure safety measures, children should be allowed back to school as soon as possible, she said.

“Children at a very young age have brains that quickly absorb information and knowledge. If we lose out on this learning time, it’s going to take longer for the children to be able to grasp information in the future.”

Dr Felicity Coughlan, a director at the Independent Institute of Education, said: “If you are only at school three days out of five, or every second week, there is no consistency in the learning process.”

Stellenbosch University Professor Michael le Cordeur said: “While we cannot deny the negative impact on children’s education, they will only be vaccinated in 2022, which puts them and their teachers at risk.”

Le Cordeur said the impact of the pandemic on academics differed from school to school and from society to society.

“Those in private schools have least been affected, if at all, but those in poor communities have fallen far behind which emphasises the inequalities in the education system.”

However, he said it was always possible for teachers to make up the time lost because of the pandemic.

“Children are very clever. And many teachers have learnt how to teach under adversity.”

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