Schools show shortfalls amid Covid-19 pandemic

The National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa (Naptosa) says that as schools reopen for the 2022 academic year, they will do so with deficits. Primary schools will operate at full capacity and high schools on a rotational basis, which means the education sector is, for a third consecutive year, far from returning to normal. 

On Wednesday 12 January learners in the five inland provinces — the Free State, Gauteng, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, and the North West — started their academic year with disruptions caused by Covid-19 still very evident. 

Basil Manuel, the executive director at Naptosa, points out more than 70% of learners still have not mastered reading as they step into grade three this year, because they had only 50% of schooling in 2020 and 2021. 

“It is a tragedy that will follow those children throughout their schooling,” he says.

Regarding statistics of the placement of mobile classrooms at schools, Manuel believes more than 50% of primary schools have not yet returned to teaching at full capacity, because they cannot meet the one-metre social distancing requirement. 

“Our issue is that we’ve had two years and not a single additional classroom has been given to these schools that are overcrowded. We want to see them back at school. However, we also want to see safety issues being addressed,” he says. 

Speaking during the department of basic education state of readiness report on Tuesday, the deputy director general of the Basic Education department, Simone Geyer, says the ministerial advisory committee did not give the go-ahead for secondary schools to function at full capacity. 

Geyer attributes the committee’s decision to the larger number of learners in high school and that several high schools are not able to maintain the one-metre health protocol in the classroom.   

But Naptosa is advocating that all schools — primary and secondary — should operate at full capacity to lessen the effect of loss of learning hours for pupils. 

“Rotational learning is not working when it comes to accessing language skills, with reading, writing [and] when it comes to accessing maths skills,” says Manuel, adding, “When we look at the 2022 matriculants, they have missed out 50% of grade 10, 50% of grade 11. What do we expect them to do in grade 12? There are many building blocks that are not there.” 

Also speaking at the department’s state of readiness, Minister for Basic Education Angie Motshekga emphasised the “devastating” effect the Covid-19 pandemic had on the basic education sector in the past two years.

“We have spoken before about the learning losses incurred as a direct result of the novel Covid-19 pandemic — from the loss of teaching and learning time, to education personnel losing their lives to Covid-19 complications,” said Motshekga. 

But she said the current schooling system will remain in place. “We are exploring possibilities to return schooling to normal, but we need to do so responsibly. At the right time, we will come back to report on progress being made.” 

Considering principals and teachers being prepared, as well as structured timetables,  Manuel believes schools are ready to reopen. But he says the shortage of teachers, rotating schedules and failure to place all learners will be a disadvantage to the schooling system. 

“But what will happen is that we will open schools for the learners. And the teachers and principals will make it work because that is their job. However, they will be working with deficits.”

Naptosa and teacher unions will be updated about Covid-19 situation on Friday by Wits University vaccinology professor Shabir Madhi, a professor of vaccinology at the University of the Witwatersrand, to ensure they are better informed when they meet the departments of health and basic education.

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Eunice Stoltz
Eunice Stoltz is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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