Government mulls ‘full-time return’ to schools in South Africa

The Department of Basic Education says that it is considering the return of learners to schools on a full-time basis.

A departmental spokesperson told News24 that the Covid-19 pandemic has had a greater than expected impact on the country’s learners, with a government workshop this week warning that schools would only catch up on the curriculum in 2030.

“At this workshop there were two presentations about the learning losses. Experts are telling us that the impact is dire, it is more than we expected,” he said. “Experts are telling us that we will only recover in 2030. In fact, we will never catch up and we have to reconstruct the whole curriculum.”

He added that the recovery plan for schools will have to be reworked to ensure that more time is not lost. This will include the possible full-time return of learners.

However, he said that this decision would only be made after consultations with unions and would be guided by with health and safety procedures.

Current system not working 

A large number of South Africa’s primary schools currently work on a rotational system, where pupils only come in on certain days of the week, in an effort to reduce crowding.

On the days that learners don’t physically go to school, they typically learn online from home. However, education experts have warned that this system is not sustainable in the long term.

“It is easy for middle- and upper-class South Africans with access to schools that can accommodate social distancing and Covid protocols to begin to believe that, on the whole, except for the inconveniences of screening, masks and sanitation, education is returning to normal.

“However nothing could be further from the truth,” said Dr Felicity Coughlan, director at the Independent Institute of Education.

She added that for most children, ‘regular’ schooling has yet to resume.

Coughlan said that while schools and educators are doing the best they can, often with limited resources, too many children, including those in reasonable well-resourced public schools, are still attending school on a rotation basis instead of full-time, because of space constraints and the inability to ensure social distancing.

“It is understood that children learn less when stressed and that in periods of social and civil unrest they are impacted not only by their lack of access to school, but also by what happens when they are at school and the ongoing and pervasive sense of uncertainty.”

To address the lack of in-person teaching time, some schools are using the hours children are at school in this disrupted manner to focus intensively on Maths and languages, she said.

“This is understandable, but there is a social cost to relegating social subjects to at-home learning.

“Others are sending a great deal of work home which is fine if you understand the work to start with, but if not, that only compounds the problem.

“Others are making their teachers available for hours each day to respond on WhatsApp to children – depriving exhausted teachers of recuperation time. None of this is negligent and none of this is motivated by anything other than a desire to do the best possible.”

Read: Coding and robotics in South Africa – what schools will actually be teaching

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Government mulls ‘full-time return’ to schools in South Africa