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We can’t expect learners and teachers to function optimally right now

It has been three weeks since schools were opened for grades seven and 12. From next week schools will be opened for more grades and school life for learners with special needs will also resume.

From the first week schools opened on June 8, there were already cases of Covid-19 reported that led to some not opening that week or having to close mid-week. Every day since there are reports of schools that have had to close because of coronavirus cases.

Of course, this was to be expected because teachers, support staff and learners live in communities and not in isolation, safely tucked away from the virus.

With more learners coming back,  particularly during a period when Covid-19 numbers are soaring, it is not going to be surprising to see more schools shutting down and  teachers and learners testing positive for the virus.

In a statement on Saturday the department of basic education said since schools have opened, 775 have been affected by Covid-19 cases, with 523 learners and 1 169 members of staff who have tested positive for the virus.

On Wednesday, Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane said 200 schools which were affected by Covid-19 in that province remain shut.

With this stop and start in schools can we really say there has been effective teaching and learning since they opened? It does not appear so.

To add to this, there have been schools that did not open on June 8 because they did not comply with the non-negotiable Covid-19 requirements. One school in the Joe Gqabi district in the Eastern Cape only opened on June 22 because it did not have personal protective equipment for learners. But, learners were turned back on the same day because a teacher had tested positive.

There is also the issue of matric learners whose curriculum has not been trimmed and who are expected to write their final exams on a date that is yet to be announced.  

They have lost almost three months of schooling during the lockdown.

They are now back at school but there is still the threat of schools having to close when there is a coronavirus case, hanging over them.

In that case, they will have to stay at home until it is safe for them to return.

You cannot possibly expect these learners to perform well in their final exams; you just can’t. It is no good using the argument that there was online learning or radio and television broadcasts during the lockdown period. That does not count as many of them were unable to access any of these for multiple reasons.

It’s impossible to even imagine the pressure that these learners must be under right now.

The department says that keeping children at home for long periods will disadvantage them — particularly those from poor backgrounds — and that some might end up dropping out for good.

But perhaps the one thing that the department has not made particularly clear is what would happen if this academic year is cancelled and everyone goes back to their grade next year? What effect would this really have on the education system?

Right now the department cannot confidently say that there has been effective teaching and learning at schools.

It is also not just about people testing positive and schools closing. It is unlikely that learners and even teachers are performing at their full potential. This is because Covid-19 has stopped being a distant virus; many people know someone who has the virus or who has died from it.

People are operating from a place of anxiety which takes a huge toll on  their mental health. It may well be that we have warm bodies in schools, but to think their minds are highly productive is a reach.

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

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