The department of basic education (DBE) is working around the clock to claw back the time lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the basic education minister, Angie Motshekga, told parliament this week.
She said there is solid plan in place to enable schools to finish the syllabus before the end of 2020. Motshekga said the recovery plan will involve assessing learners on what they have been able to teach this year, adding that there will not be blanket and automatic promotion of learners to the next grades.
This follows reports that other countries such as Kenya have opted to allow learners to proceed to the next grades without being assessed or writing the final examinations.
Motshekga said the recovery plan is supported by all major stakeholders including teacher unions. It entails, among others, tweaking and trimming the curriculum content and guiding schools on how they should revise their time-tables to deliver on the plan. She also amended the school calendar to re-schedule examinations dates for Grade 12 learners.
But even though the DBE has the buy-in from the teachers, teacher unions feel some aspects of the plan are unworkable. Women in Science. Africa spoke to representatives of two teacher unions on the matter.
National Teachers Unions (NATO)’s spokesperson, Cynthia Barnes said while they welcome the DBE’s intervention their concern it is that it is a “one-size-fits-all” plan. In its current form, she said, it favours privileged urban based schools and fails to take into consideration the plight of learners in the deep rural areas.
Learners in the urban areas, Barnes argued, receive some level of psycho-social as well as material support to help mitigate the challenges posed by the coronavirus while their counterparts in the rural schools are left to fend for themselves.
“Unfortunately, although some schools have so far been able to deal with many of the challenges associated with and occasioned by the advent of COVID-19, many other schools have struggled to meet the minimum standards for re-opening,” said Barnes adding this plan perpetuates the existing social inequalities.
She said NATU is also against the department’s amended calendar which prescribes that examination for Grade12 learners should take place in the early week of November. “We feel the pandemic has seriously disrupted schooling and as such the Grade12s should be given sufficient time to prepare for their final examinations. So, we think that the examinations should be pushed back to the last week of November to give the learners adequate time to rest and revise before the examinations,” she said.
Mugwena Maluleke, the South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU)’s general secretary said they are worried that the focus seems to be on finishing the syllabus. He said what is important is the education system in general, adding that the COVID-19 pandemic gives the country an opportunity to introspect about its education system.
“It is an ideal chance for us to review our curriculum; to look at areas of strengths and weaknesses. One such area is reading and writing. We should be focusing on how best we can help our learners to read and write,” he said.
Maluleke said SADTU is behind the DBE’s plans to trim the curriculum but are equally opposed to the reduction of the subjects. “You cannot reduce the number of subjects without a proper analysis of the impact this will have on the learners.
“The other area of concern relates to substitution of teachers. The department is not willing to hire substitute teachers and we fail to understand why they take this position,” he said. The fact is the rotation system that the department has introduced require more teachers and this is complicated by the fact that some of the teachers did not come back because they have co-morbidities, added Maluleke
He said they support the rotation system because it promotes social distancing, which is a critical non-pharmaceutical measure to control the spread of the virus among the learners.
Maluleke said they also support the proposal to re-schedule the Grade 12 final examinations to the last week of November. This will give some respite to both teachers and learners who are working under immense pressure to finish the curriculum. “We feel they need to revise and refresh given the anxiety that naturally Grade 12 learners experience at this time of the year. In addition they also suffer from the anxiety induced by the COVID-19,” he said.