By Zodidi Dano, Harvest Thwala for IOL
The Cabinet’s decision to allow for the full return of all learners at school on a daily attendance has been lauded by many, however, education activists are calling for the government to deal with the issue of overcrowded classrooms.
On Monday, it was announced that Cabinet has approved a number of adjustments with immediate effect to the country’s Alert Level 1 Covid-19 regulations based on the trajectory of the pandemic and the levels of vaccination.
Some of the amendments included Covid-19 isolation guidelines, as well as the removal of the 1-metre social distancing measure at schools. It also approved the full return of all learners at schools.
Western Cape Education MEC Debbie Schäfer said she welcomed the news.
“I am extremely pleased with the announcement yesterday that the National Cabinet has decided that all schools should return full-time. We have been calling for this and welcome this development,” she said.
Schäfer added that following a meeting with Education Minister Angie Motshekga it was agreed that this would be put in effect on Monday, February 7.
The MEC said following numerous requests from parents, she also said that the issue of mask-wearing for children be reconsidered.
Thirona Moodley of the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa (Naptosa) KwaZulu-Natal region said the union welcomed the decision for the daily attendance of all learners.
“The world is in the third year of the Covid pandemic, it has not only impacted on lives and health but also on our economies and schooling. Schooling and education, in general, are dependent primarily on person-to-person contact, a complete reliance on online lessons cannot effectively replace the traditional way of teaching and learning,” said Moodley.
The union’s executive director Basil Manuel though, cautioned the Department of Basic Education about the relaxation of the social distance measurement.
“We, however, caution the Department of Basic Education (DBE) not to allow the social distancing relaxation to now rest on their laurels in urgently addressing the issue of overcrowding in schools. The Department has already missed an opportunity during the pandemic period to tackle this grave problem.
“If the Department was able, in a short space of time at the start of the pandemic, to provide water infrastructure (albeit water tanks in many instances) to school that did not have these facilities, they surely could have done something during the last 2 years to alleviate the overcrowding of schools,” Manuel said.
Education activist Hendrick Makaneta also lauded the Cabinet’s decision, saying it was clear that learners had lost a lot in the curriculum and that there was a need for full-time attendance.
“The central question now is what is the government going to do about the issue of overcrowded classrooms, an issue that has been persisting over the year,” he said.
Makaneta said although the pandemic caught the country while it was unprepared, it assisted on the overcrowding classroom issue.
“We want the school infrastructure to be extended in schools in townships and rural communities so that the same small number of learners per classroom, as was during the pandemic, to be maintained,” he concluded.
Lead researcher on the Education Chapter of the ‘Covid-19 Country Report of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Professor Vimolan Mudaly said that this decision was long overdue.
“The problems with rotational classes far outweighs the dangers that the retreating Covid-19 virus poses and I am convinced that this decision was long overdue. The gaps left by the omission of content due to curriculum trimming can be worked on, and we expect that within the next few weeks a sense of schooling normality will begin to prevail,” he said.
Mudaly also said that there are no absolute guarantees that learners will be safe from the pandemic, however, he believes that school personnel will monitor the situation.
“We have to measure the loss of time and curriculum content against the current state of the pandemic. There may still be remnants of the virus circulating in our community, but there seems to be a general immunity established. Despite these decisions, I will still imagine that school personnel will monitor the situation in their schools and react as quickly as possible if there are suspicions of an outbreak,” he said.