As we head into the end of the week, teachers in most public schools are preparing for what I’m currently referring to as the onslaught of learners that will descend on them on Monday 24 August in the form of grade R, 1-3, 4 and 6 for Primary Schools and grade 9, 10 and 11 for High Schools.
There are however already schools, mostly former model C schools, who have applied for deviation and have already started school for the above-mentioned grades and even for those only scheduled to return 31 August 2020. A friend called me last night to confirm which grades would be returning to school next week as she has 2 siblings in grade 4 and grade 9; for a split second I wanted to respond with “It depends on the school and whether they have applied for deviation or not” but then I realised she wouldn’t even know what I’m talking about because her siblings go to a school in the township and there, they go by the dates that were given by the department.
Contrary to popular belief, this isn’t because they are lazy or lack enthusiasm or passion for their jobs it is simply because circumstances do not allow for them to even consider applying for deviation.
When schools reopened on 8 June and teachers who are at risk in terms of the COVID – 19 risk factors started working from home, the department said there was no need to provide substitute teachers as there would be a surplus of teachers in schools because not all grades were back, which in fact was the case. Months later, we’re on the verge of having all grades back in schools and this is no longer the case.
There is not a surplus of teachers available in schools to fill in for those who are working from home. Most schools sit with the problem of being understaffed, they do not have the required amount of teachers for the number of learners who will soon be returning. Even with rotational timetables being implemented – the important need for social distancing and following health protocols – still leave schools understaffed.
There are different options available to schools in terms of timetabling, these include weekly and daily rotation, which is the most commonly selected with 57% of schools opting to go with these options according to the National School Readiness Survey 5 conducted on the 11th of August. Some schools, unfortunately, were not even able to start drawing up time tables (at the time the survey was conducted) because of space constraints and teacher availability.
In July Minister Angie Motshekga said, “Provision of a substitute or the type of substitute provided, will depend on the extent of work the educator is able to accomplish. This may range from a fully qualified substitute to fully replace an educator at home, to a teacher aid that will act under the guidance of the educator at home or another educator present at school.” This clearly has not been the case if schools are stuck at timetabling and have mentioned a shortage of teachers as one of the two reasons.
Teachers working from home need to be substituted by the government. Where that hasn’t happened children from previously disadvantaged communities will continue to be disadvantaged because the schools they attend don’t have the financial capacity as others do – who have applied for deviation – to pay for these substitutions.
Take School “X” for instance, where 7 educators are working from home and because the school still wants to do the best they can for their learners, the deputy principal has proceeded to work out a timetable based on the teachers they do have available. This timetable, however, sees 3 groups from each grade 4 and 5 class instead of 2 groups. Meaning one register teacher is responsible for 63 learners “per class” (no, not at the same time) instead of the usual 38. This also means that each week one of the 3 groups will only be able to attend school on one day.
The workload in these circumstances have almost more than doubled for teachers; keeping in mind that teachers’ responsibility exceeds simply presenting a lesson during contact time. The pressure on these little grade 4’s is also greater than it was before because teachers will expect learners to do work according to weekly preparation given on the days they are not in a class, as teachers themselves have to maintain the required percentage of curriculum coverage according to the revised Annual Teaching Plan.
I almost feel like no one wins in this situation where more is expected from learners, parents and teachers under difficult circumstances and the department is not delivering in terms of following through on promises made.
After all this COVID corruption, the last thing we want to hear is there’s no money to pay the substitutes.
“Since March up to now, they have not been going to school. For me, it’s a disaster. Even when we had trimmed the curriculum, we still won’t be able to claw back what we lost. So it’s a disaster.” The Minister of Basic Education said.
I say it will continue to be a disaster if schools are not provided with adequate human resources.
*These are the opinions of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Vannie Kaap News.