Vee Ganie.
Vee Ganie.

Call to end rotational timetable at schools ’premature’, says chairman of KZN Parents Association

By Nadia Khan Time of article published Nov 19, 2021

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Durban: The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has called for an end to the rotational timetable, which has seen pupils attend school between two to three days out of a week.

In a statement, the commission said it believed the rotational timetable would have a long-lasting impact on pupils’ learning ability.

Since last year, primary and high school pupils have attended school on alternate days. While some schools are now fully-operational, others are open on alternate days.

The commission said a large number of primary schools were continuing on rotational timetables and applied to rotate in 2022 as well.

The commission said the reason for the rotation was due to the directive of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the Minister of Cooperative Government and Traditional Affairs (Cogta), that social distancing measures in primary schools should be maintained at one metre.

It added that rotational learning had a long-lasting negative impact on learning outcomes for children. The commission said that as per the ministerial advisory committee on Covid-19, the harm of learners attending school on a rotational basis exceeded the benefits of reduced Covid-19 infections from smaller class sizes.

It wrote to the ministers of basic education, health and Cogta to discuss the termination of rotation in primary schools.

“We will also discuss the return to normal for high schools in view of the fact that the Department of Health has commenced with the Covid-19 vaccine roll-out for 12 to 17 year-olds.”

Foster Mohale, the spokesperson for the Department of Health, said they believed the end of the rotational timetable could work as it had worked in the workplace.

"However, we will appeal to parents and guardians to support their eligible children with vaccinations to reduce the level of transmissions in classrooms.”

Mophale said 289 694 children between 12 to 17 have been vaccinated thus far. The department does not have figures on how many educators were vaccinated.

In a statement, the KZN Department of Health said an estimated 120 123 educators in the province were vaccinated at state vaccination sites by July 31. They said some educators may have vaccinated as normal citizens and were therefore not counted under the occupational category. The department said as of November 11, there were 18 361 vaccinations in the 12 to 17 age group at their public vaccination sites.

Mlungisi Mtshali, the national spokesperson for Cogta, said: “The department has always been open to meetings with the SAHRC. However, this particular issue can be handled by the Department of Basic Education (DBE) directly as the issues relate to directions which were gazetted by the department (DBE) in consultation with its stakeholders.”

Elijah Mhlanga, a national and provincial spokesperson for the DBE, said: “The department is willing to engage the commission and will do so pretty soon. However, we were the first to say it doesn’t work. Rotational timetabling is a big problem but we had to do it to manage the spread of Covid-19, but it doesn’t help the basic education sector at all. It is for this reason that we appreciate the conversation which the SAHRC has started.”

He said the department did not have the number of schools that applied for a rotational timetable and that a majority of teachers were vaccinated.

“At the last count, more than 95% had been vaccinated.”

Vee Gani, the chairperson of the Parents Association of KZN, said while the decision to return all pupils to school was a positive one, it may be premature at this stage.

“It will be dependent on the Covid numbers. We believe that education is important and we also agree that the rotational timetable has had an adverse impact on the standards of quality of teaching and learning that our learners have become accustomed to over the years. However, the risk is still there.

"Currently, we have schools with low enrolment numbers and very small class sizes, which is acceptable as there is social distancing and the risks are substantially reduced. But what about large class sizes where there are between 45 and 55 or more learners in a class? Parents are worried. How do we make this decision when there is an expected fourth wave looming with another variant?"

Kishore Hambapersad, the secretary of the School Governing Body Association of KZN, said: “I always supported that alternate days be done away with, but, of course, the issue of social distancing is still a major concern. I feel the Department of Education has to find ways to ensure that for a full population of pupils to return to school, it should provide more teachers and maybe makeshift classrooms to ensure social distancing.”

Professor Vimolan Mudaly, the deputy academic leader at the College of Humanities – School of Education at UKZN, said the decision for rotational timetabling was not an easy one.

“It was taken specifically to protect the learners from the possibility of any spread of the harmful effects of the virus. The concerns raised by the commission can easily be mitigated through careful planning and well-structured school programmes. All of the cognitive, nutritional, and psychosocial costs must be measured against the possibility of some learners becoming severely ill.”

Mudaly said it was difficult to apportion blame by pinpointing one specific reason for the problems experienced in education.

“Certainly, public schools suffered in this period but these may be the historical issues of poor school resources, lack of online facilities for teaching and learning and the general decay in the school infrastructure. There are schools that have successfully manoeuvred the issue of rotational timetabling but I recognise that there are impeding issues and these need to be addressed through strategic planning for the future."

Professor Mignon McCulloch, the chairperson of the South African Paediatric Association, said: “We would support getting kids back to as much normality as possible now that teachers are vaccinated. Children are much less likely than adults to become severely ill with Covid-19 and are also less likely to transmit to their contacts.

“The role of schools in promoting community transmission of the virus is not firmly established, but in most settings schools have contributed minimally to community transmission.

"Conversely, not returning to school has profound negative consequences, including detrimental effects on education, nutrition, mental and physical health, and finances. Consequently, returning to school will be beneficial to children, their parent/s and the broader community. But we must also encourage all vaccine hesitancers to get vaccinated,” McCulloch said.

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