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Covid-19 in classrooms: When a cough causes chaos

My cousin’s son, who is in grade seven, returned to school last month. 

This week she told me that she feels taking her son back to school was a complete waste of time. This is because, at the Soweto primary school her son attends, she does not believe there is any productive learning happening since schools reopened. 

She says, ever since schools reopened, her son is back at home at noon. Her son also says that whenever one of his classmates coughs, everyone runs outside the classroom, including the teacher. Once everyone is outside, the classroom gets sprayed with a sanitiser, the child’s temperature is taken and they are given a cough mixture to drink. The teacher also calls the child’s parents to tell them that their child coughed in class and will be sent home. 

My cousin tells me that when this happens, her son says it becomes complete chaos at the school, because everyone in all the classrooms comes out to check why people are running out of the other classroom. And as you can imagine, the school descends into a state of panic, which leads to learners being sent home early. 

We are in the flu season now, so I imagine this chaos is going to happen a lot at the schools, because children and teachers will be coughing from the flu. 

When my cousin told me this story, at first I found the whole thing comical. But when I was reconsidering what she told me later, I realised that it is actually not funny at all. 

This situation is not a joke because it reveals that both teachers and learners have little knowledge about the virus. This surprised me because — according to the department of basic education — teachers and learners were given orientation about the virus. 

But when it comes to the learners, it is also the responsibility of their parents to have schooled them about the virus and how it spreads; part of this knowledge sharing should have included that just because someone is coughing, it does not mean they have Covid-19. 

Recently a teacher also shared with me the difficulty of teaching during Covid-19. The teacher said because learners have to wear masks it is difficult to interact with them in class, because their voices are muffled. To keep in line with physical distancing rules teachers cannot get closer to learners. The teacher said she wears a face shield so learners can hear her. 

She said she had suggested that, when answering a question, learners remove their  mask and put them back on when they have finished speaking. But the next day parents protested outside the school, saying that teachers are trying to kill their children by asking them to remove their masks. 

Last week, I asked in this column whether we can really say there has been effective teaching and learning since schools reopened last month. 

The two stories I have shared — and I have encountered many more — indicate that things are not well at all in classrooms. 

In a statement on Sunday, Eastern Cape education MEC Fundile Gade announced that the province will not open for grades R, six and 11 on Monday, as per the national directive. He said the provincial department had taken the decision because it sees that, “We are more  managing the infections in our institutions of learning, than managing the pedagogy of  teaching and learning as our core mandate as a sector.”

I agree with MEC Gade on this one.

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

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