Western Cape learners to return to class full-time
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Cape Town - The Western Cape Education Department (WCED) said it was ready to allow all learners to return to class full-time because they were less likely to be hospitalised or die from Covid-19 complications than adults.
WCED spokesperson Bronagh Hammond said the return of all learners would be beneficial, because they would get back into a regular routine. She said learners on the rotation system often require certain concepts and lessons to be “refreshed”, instead of picking up daily on what they had learnt the day before.
Hammond added that while lesson packs had been arranged for at-home learning, the time spent on education-related activities at home could not be monitored.
This follows a heated debate after the Department of Basic Education (DBE) said it was mulling over the decision to have all primary school pupils back to school full-time.
UWC Education faculty's deputy dean of research, Rouaan Maarman, said it would be a good decision, because infection levels were low and learners have already missed out on many learning opportunities.
Maarman said learners would carry the curriculum backlog with them throughout their schooling and even beyond school.
"Learners also fell into habits of non-educational activities at home over the last year, and they've lost out on structured educational and social growth which only takes place in a school setting," said Maarman.
Progressive Principals' Association spokesperson Anthea Adriaanse said what should be on the discussion table is how the current curriculum should be restructured, as many schools were not coping with the loaded expectations of the Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statements in a normal year, and this has been exacerbated and glaringly emphasised during the pandemic.
Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools deputy chief executive Jaco Deacon said the return to school has been long overdue, and they have been asking for the department to allow learners to attend schools fully for a long time.
Deacon said based on the medical evidence available, schoolchildren are a very low risk group, and based on the science there have been few instances where Covid-19 was transferred from learners to teachers.
He said learners should be allowed to return to school, especially after the department published the new directions which allowed for contact sport to continue in schools.
"It doesn't make sense if two kids can tackle one another in rugby and kick the ball and make contact, but are not allowed to sit next to each other in a class," said Deacon.
However, Educators Union of SA provincial chairperson André de Bruyn said the consideration of the department to bring all schools to full capacity was a selfish decision.
"The department can't even supply decent personal protective equipment for schools. Neither can it guarantee the safety of its employees. Teachers with comorbidities face overcrowded classrooms on a daily basis," said De Bruyn.
National Professional Teachers Organisation of SA executive director Basil Manuel said unions needed to be engaged. He said they were aware of research that was conducted, and that some people were supporting the full return of learners.
"We are not saying we are not supporting it. We are saying we must have an open debate about it, and we must look at the real conditions on the ground," said Manuel.
He said the research was done in places with relatively small learner numbers, and how would that work in places with overcrowded classes?
Education activist Hendrick Makaneta said the department should be guided by scientific research on the current impact of the pandemic.
"In principle it is necessary for all learners to receive education amid the challenges that we face as a country, but the DBE should not just use its discretion. It should be clear at this point that everybody is familiar with the new normal, but we cannot afford risk," he said.