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Unions, parents call for academic year to be suspended

File Picture: Photographer Ayanda Ndamane African News Agency(ANA)

AS CORONAVIRUS infections surge, many parents and teacher unions are supporting the call for the academic year to be suspended.

The SA Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) in the Northern Cape has stated that schooling should be suspended until the Covid-19 “peak” has passed.

“The academic year is abnormal due to this pandemic,” said Sadtu provincial chairperson Senzo Mpalala on Tuesday. “It has been scientifically proven that schools are fertile ground for the virus to spread because of movement at schools. Schools should, as we enter the storm of the virus, be closed until the peak is over because we are not able to write examinations. Most schools have not covered the syllabus and there are some school grades who are only going back to school in August. By then the year is already near its end. How much of the syllabus will the teacher then have to cover with those pupils? Currently the infections are surging at an alarming rate and we are in the middle of winter. We cannot expose pupils unnecessarily. We can welcome pupils back in summer.”

Mpalala said the focus should be on matric pupils.

He suggested that Grade 12 pupils could attend special camps, which are closely monitored, and schools should be closed.

The Suid-Afrikaanse Onderysersunie (SAOU) provincial secretary, Henk Brand, supported the argument that “exit grades” (grades 7 and 12) should be the focus.

“We are not sure if the academic year for the other grades can be saved. The department should consider keeping schools open for exit grades. With the current methods, such as platooning, the hybrid method and alternative days of attendance for pupils for the exit grades, we will be able to salvage the academic year,” said Brand.

He said that the rate of school closures in the Northern Cape is an indication that the worst is yet to come.

“The rate at which schools are closing is worrisome. We have already had 48 schools that have had to close due to Covid-19 infections. We are now entering the peak of the infections and more schools might follow suit. If the same teaching and learning method is followed after the peak, or next year, we will be able to catch up with the school work from this year,” he said.

Brand said that pupils in grades which had not yet been phased in should continue with online learning and homeschooling.

The provincial chief executive officer of the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of SA (Naptosa), Greg Titus, said it is no use trying to salvage the academic year at the cost of the lives of educators and pupils.

“Initially we supported the return to school, however, the number of Covid-19 infections at schools, as well the lives lost, made us relook at our stance. There were previous reports that young children cannot contract and spread the disease, however, it has been proven otherwise. We want the academic year to succeed but at what expense will it be? We cannot expose pupils and our members to unsafe environments that will have a ripple effect on communities,” said Titus.

Many parents in the Province also supported the call for the academic year to be suspended.

“The evidence from past infections is clear that the virus is not something to be toyed with. We also saw that the signs and symptoms are now changing and increasing. The president said on Sunday that we are now entering the storm of the virus. What parent wants to send their child out in the middle of the storm? The best would be to keep our children at home,” said a parent.

“We understand that no government across the world has any experience in how to fight this virus. We will also not blame the department should they make a call to suspend the academic year. We want our children alive. There might be a vaccine by the time schooling commences. However, for now, the best solution would be to put schooling on hold.”

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