The department of basic education has proposed three models of teaching and learning to be used once all grades return to school. These are platooning (where grades take turns using school facilities), alternating attendance on different days of the week and rotating classes every second week.
The models, the department says, are most likely to assist schools with large numbers of learners, which might make it difficult to observe physical distancing regulations.
In its document titled Guidelines For Development of the Schools Timetables: Reopening of Schools Covid-19, which the department released on its website last week, it also proposes these models as a way to recover lost teaching time. Schools have been closed since March 18.
Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga announced earlier this month that a phased-in approach would be used in the reopening of schools. Last week she said the National Coronavirus Command Council and the Cabinet had approved the reopening of schools on June 1 for grades seven and 12 learners.
This will happen in seven phases, according to the Coronavirus Orientation Guidelines for Schools, another document the department has released. The next classes to resume will be grades six and 11, followed by grades five and 10, grades nine and four, grades eight and three, grades two and one and the last grade to return to school will be grade R. The dates for their return to school are yet to be announced.
When choosing a model, schools will have to consider things such as the availability of classrooms to accommodate learners sitting at least 1m apart, the availability of desks to allow for one learner at a desk, how much of the curriculum will be covered and the time available in a day to determine the duration of the period by subject.
Regarding the platooning model the department emphasises that “special attention” has to be given to younger learners and those with learning disabilities who may not be able to concentrate in the second shift that will start in the afternoon. The one option suggested is that classes may start at 7.45am and continue until midday. The afternoon class will start at 1pm and finish at 4.15pm.
“To avoid fatigue,” the document says, “it is advisable for lower grades and children at low developmental levels to be accommodated in the first half of the day.”
It says one advantage of the model is that fewer learners will be in an area, so physical distancing is possible. Another is that there will be more time for children to spend with teachers because learners won’t be delayed by screening for Covid-19, which occurs every time they come to school. On the downside, there might not be enough time for classrooms to be cleaned between the two groups. It also notes that some subjects, such as maths, are best taught in the morning and some learners won’t be able to attend afternoon classes because of transport problems.
The other model, where learners come to school on different days, would mean the school day is extended to 4pm so there is enough teaching time. The document says some provinces might consider using school or church halls as alternative teaching spaces.
But this model might result in not enough time with teachers and learners who miss a class might lag behind. It also means learners will have to catch up on the curriculum every day when it’s their turn to be at school. Also, some subjects might not be taught every day.
Under this model teachers will provide homework for learners to do while they are not at school for a week. Some of the advantages of this model is that the workload for teachers is more manageable. In addition they will be prepared for unforeseen circumstances such as Covid-19 cases at the school. The disadvantage is that learners will spend less time with teachers. Also, learners in the lower grades might struggle to do the homework for the week they are not at school. They are likely to lose momentum during the week they are at home.
The guidelines say that regardless of the model chosen, learners in grades seven and 12 — and year four in schools for children with lower intellectual development — must be at school every day and must be taught all subjects.
In addition: “For secondary schools, particularly grades 11 and 12, it is important that all subjects are taught even if it means shortening the duration of the periods. For the foundation phase, the emphasis must be on numeracy and literacy.”
For other grades in high school, the focus must be on teaching key subjects, in particular those subjects in which learners usually underperform. The department says it will be up to the provinces to determine which subjects will be prioritised.
Director general Mathanzima Mweli said in a circular sent out on Saturday to, among others, heads of provincial education departments and teacher organisations, that the June exams had been cancelled for all grades to enable more teaching.
He also said the grade 12 curriculum has not been trimmed but has been reorganised to allow the effective use of teaching time. Grade 12 learners will still write their final exams but when this will take place will be rescheduled and a date will be announced “shortly”. The matric exams are usually written in November.
Mweli emphasised that these changes were temporary and that next year schools will return to the original school system.