With concerns growing over government’s ambitious Covid-19 vaccine rollout to the basic education sector, parents are worried that some teachers might refuse getting vaccinated, leaving their children exposed to a deadly virus.
Agricultural and rural schools, in particular, tell Food For Mzansi they are skeptical after basic education minister Angie Motshekga this weekend announced that more than half a million teachers of all ages would be receiving the vaccine.
The rollout, starting tomorrow, on Wednesday, 23 June 2021, is set to end on Thursday, 8 July, a day before schools close to mark the end of the second term. Motshekga said 582 000 educators are expected to be vaccinated with the Johnson & Johnson jab over a ten-day period.
What if teachers refuse to take the jab?
Meanwhile, Elsa Adams, the mother of a grade 9 learner from Paarl in the Western Cape, is concerned that not all teachers in her daughters’ school will agree to get vaccinated. This, Adams believes, will leave her child exposed to Covid-19.
“Teachers are exposed to thousands of children every day. I would be concerned if a teacher says that he or she is not going to get the vaccination. Our children are very exposed because they come from different areas, and they are together all the time,” Adams says.
As a teacher herself, Adams believes that teachers should be compelled to take the vaccine so that their immune systems can fight against the virus.
“If you do not take it now, [chances are] you will get sick again in the long run and we don’t know what could happen in the future.”
Skepticism within Adams’ community runs high, especially among those older than 60. Some in this group are positive about the rollout, while others are simply not interested, she says.
“Here, people are a little skeptical about the vaccination because the [correct] information does not get through to our people so well. Many of our old people are registered but now many of them no longer want to go for the vaccination.”
Some Free State learners still ‘years behind’
Sonja van der Walt, a principle at the Nampo Combined Agricultural School in Bothaville, tells Food For Mzansi she is relieved that none of her educators have indicated vaccine hesitancy. This, despite teachers in the Free State being overwhelmed by the virus’ impact on the school system.
Van der Walt says there are, however, growing concerns among teachers about the government’s 10-day vaccination rollout plan, with educators in the province finding themselves on opposite side of the vaccine fence.
“Many people are relieved, but then there are those who are afraid. There are so many different things in the media and people are scared. Some are afraid their RNA and DNA will be changed.”
In terms of workload, Van der Walt admits that it has been difficult to keep up, especially with learners attending school on a rotational basis.
As a precautionary measure, Nampo has extended the duration of class periods and implemented extra classes.
“But the backlog comes from last year, so it’s difficult. These grade 5 and 4 classes that came back very late in the year are years behind. We tried catching up in the first term, but you can’t do eight months’ work in one term.”
‘Teachers should’ve been first with healthcare workers’
In KwaZulu-Natal, a lecturer at Cedara College of Agriculture, Siyabonga Ngcobo, says the vaccine rollout for educators could not have come at a better time. However, he still feels teachers should have been first in line along with healthcare workers.
“On average, I come into contact with a class of about 60 students per day. But because of movement on campus, I probably interact with close to 300 on a daily basis.”
Furthermore, being located within the head office of the KwaZulu-Natal agriculture department, Ngcobo is exposed to a further 600 people on a daily basis.
“I wish it could have come earlier. With the third wave, I don’t think it’s going to do much to curb the trajectory. I think we will still be in a worse situation in July, especially with school holidays in two weeks’ time.”
Ngcobo also thinks a better response would have been vaccinating learners before teachers. “They are the ones who will be doing a lot of movement on shopping centres and beaches, especially during the school holidays,” he explains.
Free State matrics ‘nearly caught up’
Food For Mzansi has also reached out E.P. Nel, chairperson of the South African Agricultural Teaching Association (SAATA) and a curriculum advisor of the Free State education department.
He says, ultimately, getting vaccinated remains the choice of the teacher, although he does encourage them to do so.
In terms of the learners’ progress amid the Covid-19-induced academic backlog, Nel says, “We [the Free State], are 97% to 99% complete with the grade 12 syllabus, so there is no backlog. They [the learners] are completing their tests and final assignments for the term.”
At some of the school, however, grade 10 and 11 learners are still not up to standard and rather demotivated, Nel adds.