Minister of basic education, Angie Motshekga, said her department is on course to complete the remaining 2020 academic year even though the Covid 19 pandemic has negatively impacted its plans.
Motshekga briefed the nation since the country moved to alert level 1 and four months after the phased-in school re-opening in August. She said the significant decline in the Covid 19 infections in the country is encouraging as this means schools will also have fewer outbreaks.
“As a sector we are proceeding well under very serious conditions. We are grateful to our teachers and staff who have shown dedication to ensure our education system returns to some semblance of normality,” said Motshekga. She said they have revised their standard operating procedures to ensure schools are always ready to deal with any infections.
Motshekga said the pandemic has forced schools to adopt rotation system where they use a staggered teaching approach with learners coming to schools on certain dedicated days. “This made it difficult for us to run our schools but we were forced by the prevailing [coronavirus] conditions and have to prioritise health safety of our learners and staff,” Motshekga said.
The minister said she is worried about the dropouts as more learners have still not reported back to school after school re-opened. Said Motshekga: “We are however concerned that there is still a number of learners who have not yet returned to school and we cannot account for them. We have requested their schools to follow up with them. We have also been monitoring the return to school by checking attendance register,” said Motshekga.
She said during her recent random school visits she discovered that most of them reported a learner attendance of between 80% and 90%. Although this is encouraging, she said, this also means there is still a great number of learners who are still out there. We want all of them back at school and we are appealing to parents to assist us to get them back, added Motshekga.
She also raised concerns about the rising delinquency among learners, saying the platooning system has also, in some instances, created spaces for it. “The platooning system increases the risk of them losing interest and forget critical curriculum topics already covered at school,” Motshekga said.
She said the difficulty they are experiencing with time-tabling will be “with us for the remainder of the year as we continue to balance teaching and learning while also saving lives”. She said one of the programmes they suggest parents should adopt to keep their children meaningfully occupied is the “Read to Lead Campaign”. Through this, parents and communities can organise activities to teach children how to read, she explained.
Motshekga said the reading campaign is critical as it will keep the children busy and away from the streets particularly on days when they are not attending classes.
On Grade 12 learners, who will write their final examination in the first week of November, the minister said provinces have adopted a range of support measures to assist them. These include weekend and extra classes.
She said another intervention is a ‘Woza Matric’, catch up initiative spearheaded by the National Education Collaboration Trust in partnership with NGOs, academics and the private sector. Motshekga expressed gratitude to teachers with comorbidities who returned to school after the special concession expired when the country moved to alert level 1.
She assured them that health and safety measures are firmly in place and everyone is expected to observe them as “we work to complete the 2020 academic year which has been trimmed down during the year”.
Motshekga said her department will be gazetting new direction regarding when school can resume the non-contact physical activities. She said once promulgated these will be subjected to strict precautionary health measures to limit the transmission of the virus in schools. She also touched on school nutrition programme as well as bullying and violence among learners at school.
On the national school nutrition programme, Motshekga said “we had huge challenges because before alert level 1 we were forced to feed all the learners even though they were not at school”. She said initially the numbers were low but with the easing of the regulations and as schools re-opened, the number of learners receiving meals is also improving. “The re-opening of schools has helped to ensure more learners receive their much needed meals,” said Motshekga.
She said she was disturbed by the increasing reports of bullying and violence in schools across the country. “It is quite disturbing to notice high rate of violence among the learners. I call all the school community to deal with their challenges and resolve their differences in a peaceful manner,” she said.
The minister said they are reviving ‘school safety management structures’ including ‘Quality Learning and Teaching Campaign’ and are working with school governing bodies to address bullying and violence at schools.