‘Call it quits on academic year’

Experts say minister’s ‘obsession’ to resume school is ‘fatal mistake’ as nine close again.

The outcome of the 2020 academic year is uncertain as government is wasting the remaining months on opening the economy, instead of resolving existing challenges in the education sector, say analysts.

Pupils in Grades 6 and 11 and some in Grade R returned to school a month after pupils in Grades 7 and 12, following months away due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

But, said South African Democratic Teachers Union general secretary Mugwena Maluleke, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga should rather aim to readjust for the 2021 academic year, instead of being “obsessed” with the remainder of the already depleted 2020 school year.

“As we swim through the peak [in the coronavirus pandemic] in other provinces, schools must be shut down and in hotspots, the same must happen.

“The curriculum can be readjusted into 2021. It will be a fatal mistake to be obsessed with saving the academic year. Safety first,” he said.

The phased return of pupils was only to benefit the economy because it allowed parents to return to work as their children would be in school, said education analyst Papama Mnqandi.

This would benefit the part of the economy tied to the “urban system” and not schools in rural areas.

“We should have suspended the year and used that time to make the necessary infrastructure preparations so that we can have a good start to next year.

“Now, we have warped ourselves into a self-sabotaging corner where we know the unions will continue to raise the problems and parents will not want to take their kids back to school,” he said.

Mnqandi is guardian to his niece, who is in Grade 5, who is expected to return to school on 3 August. However, that is something he is not willing to do.

“I have taken a decision not to take her back and arranged for remote learning,” he said. “All that is human is now being dehumanised. We are blasé about loss and trauma.”

Despite assurances from Motshekga that the country’s schools were prepared to accept pupils, several provinces experienced hiccups on Monday.

According to basic education spokesman Elijah Mhlanga, the North West, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal were not yet ready to take in Grade R pupils.

The Eastern Cape decided to reopen schools on 20 July, due to a spike in Covid-19 cases. Grade R pupils in the province are expected to return on 17 August.

“Eastern Cape and Limpopo did not open [schools] because they were still waiting for water…We don’t compromise on that because water is critical to the fight against the virus,” said Mhlanga.

In the Free State, six schools had to temporarily shut, while one in Limpopo closed its doors on Monday and a further two closed yesterday due to confirmed Covid-19 cases.

The suspension of classes would only disrupt learning, making it difficult to salvage the year, said community-based movement Equal Education (EE).

EE head of Gauteng Zama Mthunzi said: “With the [pupils] in Grade 7 and Grade 12, there was chaos of reopening and reclosing due to infections and we think that has disturbed the whole entire aim of trying to salvage the academic year.”

– rorisangk@citizen.co.za

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