While basic education minister Angie Motshekga insists that there is no proof to back up claims that schools have become hotspots for covid-19, a Western Cape teacher has pleaded with parents to be more pro-active in the fight against the coronavirus.
Khanyisane Falake, a maths teacher at Norman Henshilwood High School in Constantia, urges parents to make doubly sure that their child’s school has indeed taken all the precautionary steps to protect learners against the deadly virus.
In a no holds barred interview with “Thandi and Captain Stay Safe”, Food For Mzansi’s special covid-19 podcast series, Falake says, “Whether the child gets the virus from school, church or restaurants or because someone went to the shop, the child is still going to get it. At the end of the day, 60% of the population is expected to be infected by this virus. What we can do, what the school can do, what the parents can do, what learners can do, is be pro-active in protecting themselves. That’s the best that we can do in all scenarios.”
Falake’s warning comes as Motshekga updated the nation on Sunday evening about the new return plan for South African schools. Only learners in grades 6 and 11 will return to the classroom tomorrow, while parents with grade R learners were urged to keep their kids in school as it was considered “critically important”.
The minister is adamant that the public does not have a firm grip on the “epidemiological rationale” informing government’s approach to the reopening of schools. Motshekga says, “As a result, many parents and teachers over-estimate the personal health risks they face, which in turn, can lead to excessive risk-avoidance, which is detrimental to schooling. At the same time, the fact that older children and adolescents are more likely to transmit the virus, and that strategies at the primary and secondary level need to be different, has also not been clearly communicated.
Since the reopening of schools commenced in the wake of the pandemic, nearly 26 000 schools had to temporarily shut down after educators and/or learners were infected with covid-19. This accounts for about 4% of the total number of public and independent schools in the country.
Meanwhile Falake tells Food For Mzansi editor Dawn Noemdoe in the podcast interview that although most schools have been equipped with the necessary personal protective equipment, new normative values such as wearing a face mask and observing social distancing should be inspired at home.
“There should be a collaborative effort from schools, teachers, and parents. Each person must understand that they are responsible for their health and responsible for themselves. If each person does their part, the school can then try and be as safe as possible.”
Currently, schools are splitting classes over more than one venue to enable physical distancing to ensure the safety of both learners and teachers. However, this approach is not fool proof and still poses many risks of covid-19 exposure.
While teachers with comorbidities (more than one medical condition) are currently advised not to teach, Falake believes the country faces a possible shortage of teachers. Last night, Motshekga, however, said that less than 2,5% of teachers on the state’s payroll have applied for a concession to work from home.
There is concern, though, that a depleted teaching staff might not be able to monitor all the learners’ behaviour, says Falake. “Learners must understand it is important to keep social distancing. When you speak to your friend – keep your mask on. This is for both teachers and learners.”
Though the safety plans developed by the government might seem sufficient, it appears little support is given to schools for the effective implementation of these guidelines, says a concerned Falake. “Principals are working overtime to save people’s lives. Support from the government? Very minimal.”
The lockdown, too, exposed the vast gap in the education system in the resources that different learners have access to. While some learners might have engaged in what Falake describes as “self-regulated learning” utilising online classes, not all learners and schools are fortunate enough to employ this hybrid teaching method. Many schools are unable to migrate learning into a virtual space given the lack of infrastructure and resources.
Where learners might have to present themselves for tests at schools physically, some parents might be anxious as to whether their child is adequately prepared. “Only content covered in class will be assessed,” assures Falake. Content that was taught online will not be assessed as learning and reinforcement might not have taken place.
Podcast: What parents should know about covid-19 and schools
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