A survey of 7,440 schools in South Africa reveals that a majority are not yet ready to welcome learners back on 15 February.
The survey, presented by five teacher and education unions, was conducted on 18 January, drawing responses from schools across the country. It assessed the material readiness of schools to open up again for the new school year on 27 January, later amended to the new start date of 15 February.
Material readiness is defined has having sufficient supplies of hand and surface santisers, along with face masks to meet government’s regulations.
According to the survey’s findings, at least 40% of schools do not have adequate supplies, while 53% say they are not confident that they can comply with government’s santising and social distancing protocols effectively.
Nationally, responses from schools in the Western Cape show they are most equipped to welcome learners back, but deficiencies still exist in certain areas, like supply of masks.
KwaZulu-Natal schools are the least prepared.
While the survey sample is representative of the national picture, the unions said that when taking into account information they have gathered from educators on the ground, the findings may underestimate the problems faced.
They also raised concerns over teacher mortality and psychological well-being in the face of mounting Covid-19 infections and deaths. Further research is being conducted into how at-risk educators are compared to the general population, but the survey’s ‘dip-stick’ findings raise red flags, the unions said.
Other survey findings indicated that principals are experiencing greater levels of community infections in their school areas, and subsequently face heightened anxiety from parents and teachers.
More than half (55%) reported increased infections in their immediate area, and 65% reported heightened anxiety from the community around Covid-19.
Aside from material readiness and compliance with government-mandated protocols, the survey also highlighted issues around the curriculum – most notably how most schools have not yet completed the truncated 2020 curriculum.
Of the schools that responded to the survey, only 58% of schools nationally reported that they had completed most of the trimmed curriculum for most subjects in most grades in 2020.
Only Gauteng, North West, Northern Cape and Western Cape did more than 60% of schools report finishing most of the syllabus.
This was not a surprise, the unions said, as the restructured syllabus was not adapted to a learn from home model, learning materials were inaccessible to learners, and there is a shortage of teachers.
This was exacerbated by problems on the learner side, where they faced challenges of disrupted routines, daily or weekly alternating of attendance, and other challenges of learning at home.
These problems will persist as long as we have Covid (and) will further compromise the learning programme,” the unions said.