Brian Schreuder, head of education for the Western Cape Education Department. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency (ANA)
Brian Schreuder, head of education for the Western Cape Education Department. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency (ANA)

A year in lockdown: Western Cape Education Department says its emerged stronger than ever

By Robin-Lee Francke Time of article published Mar 26, 2021

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CAPE TOWN, March 25 (ANA) - While South Africa marks a year since its coronavirus lockdown began, the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) has reflected on the resilience of education during this time.

Head of department for the WCED, Brian Schreuder, said while the sector had had it ups and downs, it has emerged stronger and more determined than ever.

Since the inception of the lockdown on March 26, 2020, the department has lost 147 employees to Covid-19, or 0.35% of staff in the WCED.

Schreuder said as of March 23, 2021, the WCED had 66 employees who were Covid-19 positive, of whom 52 were teachers.

He said that while reopening schools was much debated, statistics revealed that increases in Covid-19 infections in teachers were not as a direct result of teachers and pupils being back at school.

“Instead, the rate of infections amongst WCED staff follows the same trends that are seen in terms of overall community transmissions across the province – as we naturally have teachers and parents that live in those communities.

“Over 50% of Covid-19-related deaths of teachers happened in December and January, when teachers were not at school. This aligns with the data recorded by the province in terms of the peak of the second wave,” Schreuder said.

He said the WCED had rallied against perceptions that the 2020 school year was lost and said there was no doubt that this generation of pupils would be affected; however, he said the department remained resolute in the belief that they made the correct choices during these unprecedented times.

He was also proud that the department had decided to open its schools in April 2020 to feed its pupils on the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP) when schools were still closed.

Schreuder said the decision was not supported by everyone and they were even threatened; however, they managed to serve more than 1.6 million meals.

Additional meals were served by schools who decided to feed communities out of their own good will.

He said one of the highlights was the amazing innovation and support provided to pupils. He commended the innovative initiatives by teachers and the curriculum directorate of the department, such as the e-learning platforms.

“This past year has showcased the many positive values that we live by in our sector. Our teachers care. And while many have focused on the negative aspects of this past year, there have been so many stories of hope, resilience, self-sacrifice and support for and by our pupils,” Schreuder said.

He commended the matric class of 2020 for ending off their school career on a high note despite the pandemic. He also stated the province achieved the lowest decrease in the pass rate in the country.

“As we reflect on the past year and look at what is happening all over the world, and the valuable teaching time lost in many education sectors, we are grateful that we had the opportunity to open our doors to learners.

“In a recent report by Unicef, schools for more than 168 million children globally have been completely closed for almost an entire year due to Covid-19 lockdowns,” Schreuder said.

He said the calls to prioritise keeping schools open reaffirmed the position the department held throughout the pandemic, but said people cannot become complacent about the virus.

“One year on, as we remember our fallen colleagues, we also celebrate the strength, resilience and commitment of the education sector of the Western Cape.

“It has been a tumultuous year, with many trials and tribulations, but we know that as a department our vision for quality education is unwavering,” Schreuder said.

- African News Agency (ANA); Editing by Yaron Blecher

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