Ntombi Majola sanitises desks at Dlulumuzi high school KwaXimba as pupils learn of two week delay to start of school term. Picture: Bongani Mbatha/ Africa News Agency (ANA)
Ntombi Majola sanitises desks at Dlulumuzi high school KwaXimba as pupils learn of two week delay to start of school term. Picture: Bongani Mbatha/ Africa News Agency (ANA)

Parents anger over fees as school delayed for two weeks

By Tanya Waterworth, Duncan Guy Time of article published Jan 16, 2021

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Durban - Parents have questioned the need to pay school fees for January, while teachers questioned the need to be at school before their learners.

This followed yesterday's announcement on the delay of schools opening by two weeks to February 15, by the Deputy Minister of Basic Education, Reginah Mhaule.

Mhaule said that the calendar for the school year had been revised to schools no longer opening on January 27 to February 15, due to the current wave of Covid-19 sweeping the country.

The fortnight delay was decided after consultation this week with the Council of Education Ministers, the Heads of Education Departments Committee, the national School Governing Body associations, teacher unions, learner formations and principals’ associations, as well as national associations representing independent schools.

"Given the pressure experienced by the health system in the past few weeks, occasioned by increased Covid-19 infections, which has led to the second wave, the Council of Education Ministers, in conjunction with the National Coronavirus Command Council and cabinet, has taken the decision to delay re-opening of both public and private schools," Mhaule said.

School management teams will be expected back on Monday 25, with teachers back on Monday February 1 and learners arriving on Wednesday February 15.

Some government schools, as well as Independent schools have indicated they will be closed, but that online teaching will start.

Meanwhile on social media, a number of parents questioned why they would have to pay school fees for January.

On the #schoolsreopening on Twitter, Phineas Thabane tweeted, "We are going to pay school fees for January ?" and Yolanda, “Do you know the pain of paying for school fees while the child is at home,” while Yoli tweeted, “So who's going to pay me for staying with my kids until February 15,” while Magare tweeted, "The sad part is that the people taking these decisions – their children are attending private schools so they are not affected by this at all."

Some parents took it more in their stride, with Lwazi Msomi tweeting, "Parents are tired of their kids eating every two minutes," while The Finn tweeted: “So I'll be watching Peppa Pig season 2 until February .”

But, the National Professional Teachers' Organisation of South Africa (NAPTOSA), said it could not understand why teachers needed to return two to three weeks earlier than February 15.

“At a time when this pandemic has outwitted the experts, the second wave has arrived sooner and with more fatalities than expected, the Department of Basic Education has chosen to have teachers and school management teams return to school way before the learners.

“Naptosa is grappling to understand the reason for this. Schools have prepared for the 2021 school year in 2020,” said KZN chief executive officer Thirona Moodley.

“What are teachers to do in school when learners have not reported, considering their core duty is teaching? Will it not be safer for teachers to stay at home until it is absolutely necessary for them to leave the safe confines of their home?” she asked.

She questioned whether schools would have been ready anyway, by the end of January, when it came to the delivery of personal protection equipment, water and other “non-negotiables”demanded by unions.

Meanwhile schools across the province held meetings yesterday to plan the way forward.

Glenwood Preparatory School principal Noel Ingle said the school would “probably follow the same format as last year”.

In its case, rather than going online, the school issued work packs, followed by communication through WhatsApp.

“It worked very successfully last time,” he said, adding, that last year’s school lockdown happened during the middle of the term, while this year’s is at the beginning of the year.

“They had all been in class, so we’ll have to adapt it to the situation. It will probably be more about reading, maths and revision from last year.

“But we don’t want to overload the kids, or their parents. We know the parents are under a lot of stress, they cannot just take the place of teachers. We want them back refreshed, rather than stressed," he said.

On the issue of fees, Ingle said that last year, all Glenwood Preparatory School’s boys had missed out on, were cultural and sports activities.

“There was no academic catch-up needed. The majority of parents were prepared to pay and did so,” he said.

Westville Girls’ High School’s governing body chair, Emma Dunk, said the school had learnt many valuable lessons.

“And will be taking the best of what we learnt with us this year. Westville Girls’ High School has the capacity to bring all grades back safely and in line with all Covid-19 protocols but we have to await instruction from the official Department of Education gazette which is expected to come out next week.”

She added the main difference between this year and last year would be that the Grade 8s of 2020 were able to attend orientation, team building and leadership camps whereas this year’s grade 8s will have to be managed more carefully and in line with all department regulations.

She said remote learning would start on February 3, for grades nine to 12 and confirmed requests for school fee assistance are handled on a case-by-case basis by the school’s finance committee.

World Vision’s Advocacy and Child Protection Manager, Pontsho Segwai, said she supported the extension, as the impact of the second wave of Covid-19 could be different to the first.

However, in the rural communities in which they work in South Africa – including Greytown, in KZN – she said that absence from school impacted hugely on children who did not have access to digital tools for remote learning.

She stressed the importance of children themselves being consulted on the impact the pandemic had on them. “They have told us about their concerns about safety (from Covid-19), catching up with school work and the increase in domestic abuse," said Segwai.

Independednt Schools Association of Southern Africa executive director, Lebogang Montjane said schools would remain open but using remote platforms.

Professor Labby Ramrathan from the School of Education at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal (UKZN) said that two weeks delay to the start of the school year would not make "a material difference", but that "there was still a lot of uncertainty" for learners, parents and teachers, as depending on how the pandemic continues, the opening of schools could be delayed again.

"Learners will anticipate a lot of the protocols which they experienced last year and nothing substantive in the way of teaching happens in the first week. Kids can also adapt very quickly to different ways of teaching and learning, but we need to develop a culture of self-learning and self motivation," said Ramrathan.

Independent on Saturday

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