Teachers have been doing it!

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Cabinet’s decision to temporarily close schools as announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa on 23 July, is widely welcomed. For those of you questioning whether it is indeed a good decision, let me share the reality of schools with you.

Since the phased-in reopening of schools – as instructed by the Department of Basic Education – it has been a roller coaster ride for parents, learners and teachers. Despite what is reported in the news, teachers and learners are living a stark reality that in fact is not being reported on.

In most schools across the country, the reality of being open is that there has been a continuous interruption of learning and teaching as a result of intermittent school closures due to COVID19. I’ll use my school as an example:

  • On 8 June 2020, our school opened its doors to Grade 7 learners, fast forward to 23 June, our first positive case of COVID19 in a learner was reported. The school then closed for decontamination to be done by the Department of Basic Education (DBE).
  • We returned to school on 29 June, only to close again on Monday 13 July for the same procedure to take place, as a teacher had then tested positive.
  • A week later on Monday 20 July, we re-opened just to close again on Tuesday 21 July 2020.

The total number of school days we’ve had since the reopening of schools amounts to 24 out of what should now be 34 school days. I could mention many more examples of schools, including high schools, who have had it just as bad and in some cases even worse.

On most days, we have poor attendance by learners for one or the other reason; these vary from parents testing positive, to parents deciding that they would rather stay home with their children. Another common reason is that the parents of those kids who would usually travel to school using public transport, simply are not comfortable with the new regulation of full loads being permissible, the list of reasons are endless.

However, our government continued to insist that having schools open benefits the learners more than it doesn’t.

My question though is, which learners are being benefitted exactly? The ones in schools where privileged principals refuse to report cases to the district in the fear of having to follow the procedure of closing? The ones in schools that close only for 48 hours or not at all because they have the money and the means to not rely on the government to decontaminate their schools?

The reality is that the very children the department keeps referring to as being at risk if they stay at home, are in fact the children most affected by continuous school closures and the reality of COVID19.

At the beginning of this phased-in approach, I heard of all these wonderful promises from the department, of them providing psychological support for learners and teachers. Where is this elusive support, I ask? Where are these counsellors to help our learners, who spend more time worrying about COVID than the upcoming test? That, amongst other things, has been left to teachers.

Once we return, which is now on 10 August 2020 for grade 7 learners, I will spend most of my first day back dealing with children having panic attacks or emotional breakdowns, as I’ve been doing amidst the continuous opening and closing of our school. Our kids fear getting sick and in turn making their parents (and in our case, mostly grandparents) sick.

I am not downplaying the importance of a complete academic year, but I’ve been in the system long enough to know that teachers have been doing it.

  • They have BEEN teaching children in a new grade who were never supposed to be there in the first place.
  • They have BEEN teaching children who have been promoted to the next grade not based on academic readiness but have been progressed to the next grade due to; an age cohort, or the number of years in the phase, or because despite the recommendation of a teacher for the learner to in fact repeat the grade, the district instructing those marks to be adjusted and the learner to be moved along, or because in the final term after receiving three academic reports, parents would say they do not want their child to repeat a grade because the school did not inform them that their child is not meeting minimum pass requirements

WE HAVE BEEN DOING IT. Successfully for that matter; getting learners up to standard in the grade they’re in despite how they got there.

I see no long term harm in closing schools to try and navigate these difficult times while figuring out a way to improve our education system and to bridge the gap in inequality among schools created by the systems of old.

I see no long term harm in closing schools and allowing them to find ways to provide quality education without putting the mental and physical health of learners and teachers at risk.

I see no long term harm in listening to the real experiences of teachers, learners and parents who have been living in this reality.

I see no harm in genuinely putting the learners first, by taking a minute, admitting that we were not ready and re-evaluating a better way forward instead of turning even this into a political issue when according to me it should be treated as a humanitarian issue.

*These are the opinions of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Vannie Kaap News.

5 COMMENTS

  1. “Teachers have been doing it” this should be a hashtag. This piece is very well written and contains so much truth!

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