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Online learning on the cards for reopening of schools, says unions

Schools may have to go back to online and distance learning if Covid-19 infections continue to rise. Picture: David Ritchie

Schools may have to go back to online and distance learning if Covid-19 infections continue to rise. Picture: David Ritchie

Published Jul 7, 2021


Online remote learning and distance learning may be on the cards as the Covid-19 infection rate continues to soar ahead of the planned reopening date of July 19.

According to teachers unions, online learning could be the learning model for the third term, as the rate of infections in the third wave continues to escalate.

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On Sunday July 27, Cyril Ramaphosa announced that the country was moving to Level 4 of the lockdown restrictions. Included in his announcement, the President ordered that all schools close a week earlier for the winter holidays.

In response to that, Department of Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga announced that schools would then reopen a week earlier than scheduled, on July 19 instead of July 26.

However, unions are now saying that the proposed date of July 19 is highly unlikely, unless different forms of teaching and learning will be adopted.

Suid-Afrikaanse Onderwysers Unie’s (SAOU) Chris Klopper said as a union they were never in agreement with the early school closure and reopening, they had called for the closure of schools to mitigate the negative infection rate that was escalating.

“We are saying it (reopening date) should remain the 26th, as the third wave won’t have passed by then, anything earlier places the lives of educators, learners and parents at risk.

“Schools should consider online or distance learning for the week of the 19th, or other risk adjusted approaches,” he said.

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Klopper said the union would still raise the issue of delayed school opening or call for a different approach, but will wait for the President’s next announcement on Sunday.

“It is better to be safe than sorry,” said Klopper.

Professional Teachers Union’s (PEU) Ben Machipi said the date of the 19th was not cast in stone.

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“We agreed with the DBE to monitor the situation on a daily basis to see if it's feasible. Obviously, Gauteng won't be able to, but as we are seeing with the Delta variant there is a rapid spread across provinces. If things go well and the numbers go down, we will reopen no problem. We will have a problem if the numbers don’t go down,” he said.

Machibi said if the infection rate continues to escalate then the plan will be online learning, but he warned that there were disparities in the country and that remote learning would not be possible for everyone.

“Ninety percent of the children won’t be able to do online learning, only a few,” said Machibi.

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SA Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) spokesperson Nomusa Cembi echoed the same sentiments as Machibi.

She said that while the vaccination programme for teachers has given them added strength, the reopening of schools would still be determined by the Covid-19 infection rate.

“We are concerned that further delays would affect academics, as learners have lost a lot of learning time due to the pandemic. We hope to let science guide us on what needs to be done.

“It will be a matter of keeping an eye on the spread,” she said.

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