Representatives of South Africa’s teacher unions will meet with health experts on Friday (14 January) to get an update on the Covid-19 pandemic and its impact on the 2022 school year.
Members are also expected to discuss the possibility of fully reopening schools in South Africa after nearly two years of rotational learning.
While many schools returned to full-time teaching in 2021, smaller schools and those with a high number of pupils have had to retain a shift system due to ongoing concerns around the Covid-19 pandemic and potential transmission.
Basil Manuel, executive director of the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa (Naptosa), told TimesLive that the intention of the meeting was to get an update on how schooling will work in 2022.
“It’s about the modalities (rotational learning) that are being used at the moment and whether they should stay. We have our own concerns about the sustainability of the present modalities,” he said.
“We are in trouble when it comes to learning losses and we would like to see as many of our kids full-time at school as possible. But that can only happen if we ensure that the other safety measures are there.”
Manuel said unions are aware that the one-metre social distancing requirement in the classroom was not possible for all schools, and there needs to be a discussion as to whether rotational classes are still justified.
The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has warned that a significant number of primary schools around the country remained on rotational timetables in 2021, with many schools also applying to keep a rotational timetable in place in 2022.
The reason for the rotation is a directive from Minister of Cooperative Government and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma providing that social distancing measures in primary schools should be maintained at one metre, the commission said.
“The commission holds that rotational learning has a long-lasting negative impact on learning outcomes for children and, as the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Covid-19 (MAC) advice states, that the harms of learners attending school on a rotational basis – specifically the severe cognitive, nutritional, and psychosocial costs – exceed the benefits of reduced Covid-19 infections from smaller class sizes.”
Pupils in inland provinces are expected to return to school on Wednesday (12 January), while schools in coastal areas will resume classes a week later on 19 January.
The Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) said on Monday that the government is committed to every learner receiving the best possible education.
“We call on families to assist learners by providing support systems. It is essential that we encourage learners and instil in them the importance of education,” GCIS said.
The government has also called on everyone to play their part to ensure the safety of learners and educators in schools.
“Covid-19 is still with us. Vaccination remains our best defence and we urge all learners aged 12 and older to vaccinate as soon as possible. Wearing of masks remains mandatory and all learners, teachers and other school staff must continue to do so. Together, we can make our schools safer for all,” it said.