The re-opening of schools today after the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic was always going to present a challenge to most school administrators. The schools were closed for five months after teachers unions and parents raised safety concerns. They felt schools did not have enough personal protective equipment to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Women in Science. Africa made random visits to four schools at early this morning in Eldorado Park and Pimville in Soweto to assess their level of preparedness as learners return to classes. Most teachers did not want to speak on record because they are not authorised to speak to the media.
Although the schools were a hive of activity, they also displayed a sense of organisation and orderliness. More time was dedicated to attending to the mundane administrative tasks such as allocating learners to classes, as well as ensuring that logistics related to the Covid-19 pandemic measures are in place.
Others were busy informing learners, who made their first return to school since the introduction of lockdown measures, about the new rotation teaching approach that most schools seem to have adopted. In terms of this approach, each grade would attend classes on specific days to ensure strict adherence to social distancing measures.
The first stop was at Klipspruit West Secondary School in Eldorado Park. Learners from some grades were sent back home because the school “has just been sanitised” over the weekend”, according to one teacher at the school.
There first thing to see were the clearly marked distance markers. Learners who did not have masks on were not allowed into the school premises. Sanitation stations, manned by masked officials and equipped with temperature scanners, were on hand to attend to visitors and learners who enter the school yard.
The teacher who did not want to reveal his name said they have made sure they comply with all the prescribed protocol measures such as making sure learners sit a metre apart from one another in the classroom and that they sanitise all the time. He said if a learner displays symptoms of the coronavirus, they send him or her to either hospital or home as they do not have the capacity to attend to the situation. Our priority at the moment is to ensure he or she does not spread the virus to others.
He also said it is a challenge to monitor and manage the learners. “Our learners still want to socialise with one another during break time. They do so without wearing their masks and it is really difficult to get them to adhere to this. Even we as teachers, we find it a bit challenging to teach with the masks on but we have to adjust,” he said.
The next school, still in Eldorado Park, was Nancefield Primary in Extension 7. It caters learners from Grade R to Grade 7. Classes take place in makeshift containers. On arrival, one could not miss the sanitation station as well as marked distance markers. Learners were in class while others were receiving instructions on which days they would attend classes.
On arrival at Nkholi Primary School, in Pimville Zone 2, at around 8:35am, the situation was calm with no learner or teacher in sight as all the classes were in session. One of the school teachers said they have also ensured that they are stocked with all the required equipment and also enforce the wearing of masks and that social distancing is observed at all times. “We are happy with how things are here at least for now; all teachers and learners are observing the Covid-19 preventative measures,” she said.
The last visit was at Umshunkatambo Secondary School in Zone 1 Pimville. Grades 9s were leaving the school yard, this after they were dismissed for the day. This being their first day, the school management decided to oriented them and also supply them with masks.
A senior member of the school management team said the coronavirus has forced them to do things differently. “We have had to change our time-table, teach ourselves and the learners how to conduct ourselves as a way of helping contain the spread of the virus,” he said. He added that overall, the school complies and that they have all the necessary personal protective equipment including sanitisers.
“Our attention today was on the Grade 9s because this was their first day at school since the lockdown measures were introduced. We oriented them about how things work and also just make sure they acclimatise to the new way of doing things. As for the matric class, we have been working very hard to make sure they are ready for their final examinations. Not only do we help and prepare them academically but we also try to prepare them psychological and emotionally. We help them to focus and that they should try to block out all the distractions associated with the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.