DURBAN - THERE were mixed views from teacher unions, a parents’ association and education analysts yesterday after Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga announced that the rotational school timetable is to remain in place this year.
Motshekga held a media briefing to outline the department’s readiness for the school year, which begins today in inland provinces and next Wednesday in KwaZulu-Natal and other coastal provinces.
“Covid-19 has had a devastating impact on the Basic Education sector in the past two years,” she said.
“We have spoken before about the learning losses incurred as a direct result of the Covid-19 pandemic – from the loss of teaching and learning time to education personnel losing their lives to Covid-19 complications.”
She said the Covid-19 numbers declined last year due to the vaccine programme and that schools had adhered to the protocols, which made their teaching environment safer.
Motshekga said the rotational roster would continue, while the State of Disaster was still in effect and that the number of spectators at a school event would be the only amendment.
“The amendment is with regard to the number of spectators permitted at school sport venues. That is the only change that we intend gazetting once stakeholders have made their inputs.
“With regard to schooling, the situation will remain the same, especially rotational timetabling,” she said.
“The fact of the matter is that Covid19 is very much still with us, and we need to continue to work together to fight it. We are exploring possibilities to return schooling to normal, but we need to do so responsibly; we rely entirely on the advice of public health experts, through the Ministerial Advisory Committee, the National Coronavirus Command Council and the Cabinet.
“At the right time, we will come back to report on progress being made.”
Nomarashiya Caluza, of the SA Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu), said they were pleased with Motshekga’s announcement.
“We welcome the announcement because we believe it is informed by scientific evidence that the virus is still around. Issues of social distancing even in classrooms is still a necessity.”
Sibusiso Malinga, acting president of the National Teachers Union (Natu), said that the union was concerned about the safety of pupils and teachers. “We have an obligation to teach the nation, however, we have to be able to teach the nation under health regulations where both teacher and learners are safe. We therefore support the decision.”
But Thirona Moodley, provincial chief executive of the National Professional Teachers Organisation of South Africa (Naptosa) said that bringing back the pupils on a full-time basis must be considered.
“The world has been in the midst of a pandemic that has shown no signs of letting up. At this point we believe that bringing back the learners on a full-time basis must be considered, while keeping health and safety a priority.”
Moodley said the learning losses were being compounded and foundational learning was being lost. “The losses may be insurmountable and will have long-term effects on the learner. Our large class sizes and crammed curriculum does not allow for catch-up.”
Vee Gani, chairperson of the Parents Association of KZN, said that he understood the decision.
“The situation with Covid-19 has not improved; we are still faced with the Omicron variant which is more transmissible, although there are reports that it causes less severe disease the virus is still spreading.
“In a classroom of 40 or 45 children, it is almost impossible to have social distance. That’s why there is a need to implement the rotational timetable. Where the rotational timetable has been implemented, we have noticed that the spread of the virus has been controlled.
“We all want school to return to normal but we have to consider the virus is still spreading,” Gani said.
Professor Labby Ramrathan, of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said although the rotational timetable would have an impact, schools had had sufficient experience with it.
“The virus affects everyone and if a rotational timetable is a way to stop the spread of the virus, it must happen. Teachers have the experience to implement rotational learning, and high school learners are mature enough to understand that they need to continue with self-learning even while away from school.”
Dr Mlamuli Hlatshwayo, also of UKZN, said that the decision to keep a rotational timetable was because the department did not want a situation where schools became areas for community spread of Covid-19.
“I’m concerned about the reproduction of inequality which the rotational system is producing, and what concerns me is it’s black working-class learners who are marginalised.
“The rotational system has a devastating impact not only because of the nutritional issue, where a large number of learners rely on receiving that one or two meals a day from school, but also in the academic situation because not many are able to access the resources that you need like data and smartphones.
“Not attending every day and engaging with your teachers can be devastating to some learners,” Hlatshwayo said.