Still no plan for schools to go back

Teachers want to go back to work. The anxiety of not knowing when schools will reopen keeps some of them up at night.

But it is not only teachers who are keen to get back to school — learners are too.

Those who spoke to the Mail & Guardian this week said they are worried about whether they will cope with the workload that awaits them when schools do finally open.

So far 20 school days have been lost. Before the Covid-19 lockdown on March 26 President Cyril Ramaphosa ordered schools to go on early recess, which started on March 18.

The department has come up with ways to support studies while children are at home. Lessons are broadcasted on radio and TV and they can go online. Schools with better resources are using platforms such as Zoom to teach during the lockdown. But most learners and teachers are waiting for schools to be opened so that teaching and learning can take place.

An Eastern Cape teacher said teachers are ready to go back to work. “We are tired of sleeping. We want to go back to work.”

It is not yet clear when schools will reopen and what plans will be put in place to recover the time that has been lost.

After a special Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, at which plans for after the lockdown were discussed, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga was to have briefed the media about those for schools, but acting Cabinet spokesperson Phumla Williams said: “Cabinet resolved that further discussion and consultations are still required before the final consolidated plan is approved to be shared with the nation.”

Teachers have suggestions for ways to make up for the teaching and learning time lost. For one, they do not believe that June exams are an option.

The Eastern Cape teacher, who teaches grades 10, 11 and 12, is anticipating having to have classes seven days a week. This is something he was doing with the grade 12 class but now, he says, it will probably extend to other grades.

He also suggested that the June and September holidays should be scrapped.

“We do not mind working extra hours and on holiday without compensation, even. We have [already] been doing that, as a matter of fact,” he said.

Teachers say they will have to run refresher lessons, because learners will have forgotten everything they were taught in the first term.

A KwaZulu-Natal grade 5 teacher worries that her learners will come back with their books not in a good state. “I know that they also miss school and because of that they are using their school books to play school while at home. I am expecting that some of them will come back with their books torn.”

She worries that the children will not cope with extra classes. “The little ones get tired quickly. I am worried because all the teachers will be wanting to catch up with them and the attention of 10-year-olds is short.”

She says it’s difficult to get through to them when they are tired. “They make noise in class, they don’t listen and they ask to go to the toilet frequently. I will be hearing ‘sorry mam, may I go out?’, ‘sorry mam, may I go out?”.

An Eastern Cape grade 2 and 3 teacher says she has sleepless nights when she thinks about what awaits her when schools do reopen.

She is concerned about the grade 2 class because some of the children were pushed through grade one. A circular from the department last year ordered schools not to fail foundation phase learners (grades 1 to 3).

“Sisi, it is a crisis, awazi wena,” she says. “Now imagine, these children have not been to school for such a long time. I will have to start from scratch with them. Andiyazi sizothini, sizobona phambili [I do not know what we are going to do; we will see then].”

A Free State teacher has been teaching his grade 12 classes on WhatsApp since the start of the lockdown. He teaches 115 matrics but has only 56 in a WhatsApp group.

“Some of them do not have smartphones to access WhatsApp, others live in places where they struggle with network coverage, but the biggest challenge for most of them is that they cannot afford data.”

The English teacher posts daily activities and gives the matrics a day to complete the tasks and report back on the group. He is worried that some of the learners are not doing the work, because he does not get much feedback. “Since it is the lockdown maybe they have also locked their minds away. I don’t know.”

For the past three years he has been getting a 100% pass rate in English. But he is not so confident he will achieve that this year.

Some learners fear that they will be worked like “maniacs” to cover the curriculum. KwaZulu-Natal twins Amile and Ahlume Yenge are in grade 8. They have been trying to study but say they get stuck and there is no teacher to help them.

“Catching the virus is the last thing on our mind,” they say in unison. Amile adds: “I feel when we go back to school we are going to be bombarded with work and it is going to be too much. Everything will be moving fast.” Ahlume says: “They are going to be breathing down our necks.”

Grade 12 learner Karabelo Panyane from the Free State says not going to school has been a struggle. She expects pressure when the schools reopen, but is hopeful that she will recover the time she has lost.

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Bongekile Macupe
Bongekile Macupe is an education reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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