Basic education minister Angie Motshekga is facing increased calls to postpone contact teaching at schools in South Africa as Covid-19 cases spike in the country.
On Tuesday evening (15 June), president Cyril Ramaphosa raised South Africa to lockdown alert level 3, changing curfew hours and restricting alcohol sales and public gatherings.
An accompanying government gazette states that the discretion for the opening and closing of schools, as well as any additional restrictions for the education sector, sits with Motshekga.
There have been growing calls for the government to temporarily halt contact classes at schools amid concerns over the third wave of coronavirus infections in South Africa, The Citizen reported.
South Africa recorded the highest daily spike since January after 13,246 people tested positive for Covid-19 on Wednesday.
According to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), this means the percent testing positive has now increased to 21.7% nationally.
Gauteng continues to drive the resurgence, with 7,859 cases logged in the last 24 hours, while the NICD said the Northern Cape, Free State, North West and Gauteng are officially in a third wave, with the remaining five provinces seeing a sustained peak.
According to the public health institute, the total number of laboratory-confirmed cases now stands at 1 774 312 since the outbreak. A reported 77 patients succumbed to the respiratory disease.
Meanwhile, 940 more people were admitted to the hospital since the last reporting cycle, pushing the tally to 8,727.
Opposition party leader Julius Malema last week gave Motshekga seven days to immediately close schools or his EFF party would take matters ‘into their own hands’.
However, Motshekga is adamant that too much teaching time has already been lost.
In a presentation given to parliament at the start of June, the department said that it hoped to have some learners return to full-time teaching at the end of July.
Currently, most students in South Africa are learning in a ‘shift system’, with a large amount of learning and coursework still expected to be done at home in an effort to increase social distancing.
In an address on Tuesday, Motshekga said that the current shift system is not working and is starting to have long-term implications for the educational development of pupils, particularly those in primary school.
The minister said she understood that some parents were anxious about the traditional timetabling model, but she said if parents felt the government was putting their children in harm’s way, then they should not return to school.
“The 12 years has been properly worked out, it’s not accidental that it’s 12 years of teaching. We’ve put everything in the 12 years, we’ve lost almost a year last year, we’ve lost almost six months and we can’t continue to lose time.”
Digital plan in place
Motshekga said that her department has developed a comprehensive plan to provide learners and teachers with digitised content as well as Learning and Teaching Support Materials (LTSMs).
Answering in a written parliamentary Q&A this week, Motshekga said that different types of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) gadgets will be provided to learners in primary and secondary schools, based on the type of teaching and learning resources installed on these devices.
“The department has also developed the remote learning strategy that ensures education continuity during the period imposed by the pandemic. This includes the Tswelopelo platform for primary school learners, and the zero-rating of education sites.”
Answering on the impact that the third Covid-19 wave will have on the education sector, Motshekga said that her department is working with State Information Technology Agency (SITA) and National Treasury to put all the necessary procurement processes in place to provide learners and teachers with ICT devices.
“The Department of Basic Education has partnered with the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies to zero-rate over 300 education sites, that provide digital and video content to all learners,” she said.
“Furthermore, the DBE has developed a comprehensive recovery plan for teaching and learning that includes broadcast through TV OVHD Channel; use of both public and community radio broadcast; and printed materials have been made available and are collected at schools by parents and caregivers to complement all the other efforts by the department.”