Major changes for school timetables in South Africa – here’s how they will work

The Department of Basic Education is looking at making major changes to school timetables in an effort to maintain social distancing at schools.

Presenting to parliament on Tuesday (30 June), director-general Mathanzima Mweli said that the department is considering a plan to amend the timetable to ensure that only 50% of the total learner enrolment is present at any given time.

Spokesperson for the Department of Basic Education, Elijah Mhlanga, presented examples of how this differentiated timetabling will work.

In the first example, schools would adopt a bi-weekly rotational system where 50% of total learners in the school would attend in one week based on their grade.

The learners that did not attend school in the first week would then attend school in week 2.

An alternative proposal would see students go to school every other day based on their grade.

The third proposal, known as ‘platooning’, would see all students go to school every day, but alternating between a morning (session 1)  and an afternoon session (session 2).

Mhlanga said his department was considering a hybrid-model which will use all three models as well as retaining the current timetable model.

This means that there would effectively be five different timetable options which could be introduced across the country’s schools.

Mhlanga added that these models are being used by other countries as part of their fight against the coronavirus pandemic and is the only way to adhere to health, safety and social-distancing requirements.

The department further outlined the advantages and disadvantages of each system as below.


Bi-weekly

Advantages

  • The timetable will be easy to design to ensure social distancing;
  • The National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP) will be possible and enable learners to have a decent meal and social distancing;
  • Better control over learners to manage social distancing and learner discipline (more teachers can assist the grades);
  • Ample time to prepare for unforeseen circumstances (such as absenteeism).

Disadvantages

  • Learners must be given homework that must be done over a whole week;
  • For the lower grades the amount of work that must be done at home for a week might be too much to comprehend;
  • On the return during the second week, more focus will be on revision and catch-up on what learners remember or comprehend after a week;
  • Learners will only benefit every second week from NSNP;
  • Not all learners have access to online resources during the week.

Daily rotation

Advantages

  • Frequent screening of learners to trace absenteeism;
  • NSNP will be possible and enable learners to have a decent meal and social distancing;
  • Tuition will be more frequent and assessment will be more regular;
  • The increased frequency will encourage learners to be more focused on schoolwork;
  • Teachers more effective and constructive in learner tuition.

Disadvantages

  • When teachers are absent due to illness this option makes it a slight challenge to have replacement on short notice.

Platooning

Advantages

  • Learners will be present on a daily basis.

Disadvantages

  • Transport challenges for learners to go to schools, especially for the second session;
  • More workload on teachers and longer working hours;
  • Classes will have to start early in the morning, increasing the chances of flu due to the cold winter weather.

Read: Next phase of South Africa’s school plan to forge ahead – despite rising Covid-19 cases among teachers and pupils

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Major changes for school timetables in South Africa – here’s how they will work