Parents and teacher unions have been uncertain following the stance by the Department of Basic Education to close schools. The decision was taken after it emerged that there were pupils in a few schools across the country who tested positive for the coronavirus.

The desperate situation was later intensified on 27 March with President Cyril Ramaphosa announcing a nationwide 21-day lockdown as a measure to manage and stifle the spread of the virus.

Now, the National Education Collaboration Trust (NECT) in collaboration with the Department of Basic Education and the private sector are ensuring that pupils are not left behind during the unprecedented closure.

According to Godwin Khosa, the chief executive officer of the NECT, the initiative is part of the Covid-19 Comprehensive Learners Support Package.

“The core of the programme is to support the department of basic education to reach the more than 13 million learners currently at home. This type of support is divided into six areas namely online learning, communication dissemination, nutrition, health and hygiene, monitoring and evaluation and teacher engagement,” says Khosa.

He says the lessons will be rolled out across the 75 education districts covering the nine provinces. It will spread over the 980 circuits covering more than 25 000 primary and high schools, the priority being given to rural schools.

“The aim is to enable learning experience to continue despite the outbreak of the virus by supporting the department to mobilise educational capacity from the society. We are doing this by talking to our partners other NGOs, trade unions and the private sector,” he says.

Khosa adds that the collaborative effort has already yielded  positive outcomes with the United Nations Children Fund (Unicef), Heartlines, DG Murray Trust, Zenex Foundation, Old Mutual, Momentum Metropolitan Holdings, First Rand, SABC, DSTV and four of South Africa’s network providers all coming on board.

The lessons will be broadcast via radio and TV in both the mainstream and community media. Network providers Vodacom, Cell C, MTN and Telkom will supply content via SMS and video streaming.

With the possibility that the lockdown period might be extended should the number of the Covid-19 cases increase, the Department of  Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga insists that the 2020 school calendar must be completed at all costs.

This, Motshekga says, will ensure that the already fragile education system is able to accommodate a new intake of pupils in 2021.

“The initiative has ensured that since the national 21-day lockdown took effect there has been a reasonable level of continuity,” says Khosa.

In addition to this, the programme entails touching base with teachers through teacher engagement, capacity building and development.

“In terms of the battle line against this disease, at the top is health workers and the second battle line is the teachers. We are engaging teachers on how they can protect themselves and their learners. Apart from this, we are leveraging opportunities to support teacher development initiatives. These include improvement of teaching in the classroom and remote teaching,” says Khosa.

An interim steering committee made up of educationists will spearhead the education response plan and report frequently.

Meanwhile, organisations fighting hunger have already predicted mass starvation and humanitarian crises as a result of the pandemic, NECT says it was mobilising resources to ensure that pupils continue receiving meals during the stay away.

“Most of the learners come from impoverished households and rely heavily on the school nutrition programme. With the closure of schools, these learners are missing out on the much needed meals. We are working in collaboration with retailers, our partners and the Department of Social Development to ensure that food parcels are valuable and distributed to learners under distress,” says Khosa.

This, Khosa adds, will be done through food drop off and distribution points across the country managed by the department of social development.

Non-profit organisation and independent research think-tank, Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute has already supported a call for a child support grant R500 top up to support families whose only source of income is the child support grant. The institute says this will avoid households suffering severe poverty as the battle to control Covid-19 pandemic rages on.

On the other hand, the University of Cape Town’s Children’s Institute has also raised concerns over the devastating effects that the outbreak of the virus will have on poor families, especially on children.

“The lockdown is important to contain the virus, but it will increase poverty and food insecurity. SA’s unemployment rates are high and are likely to rise as an immediate outcome of the lockdown and in the period beyond. We need to ensure that people’s lives are saved not from Corona but from starvation and diseases,” says Catherine Hall, senior researcher at the institute in a statement.

Hall says social grants were effective for protecting children against the effect of poverty. She adds that considering that there was no social relief for the unemployed, social grants somehow fill this gap.

“Child poverty rates are high and they will be directly affected by rising unemployment and loss of income,” she says.

Nomarashiya Caluza, South African Democratic Teachers Union secretary in Kwa-Zulu Natal says the initiative of teacher development was crucial.

“Technology and online learning is the future and not much has been done to reskill and train teachers to prepare themselves for the 4th industrial revolution. Crises such as the coronavirus should serve as a wake up call for government to invest more resources on teacher development and training teachers on technological advancements affecting the education sector,” says Caluza. She says because of inadequate teachers who are trained and grasp digital learning, state-of-the-art technology facilities in various schools in the province have left unused ,severely affecting teaching and learning. – Mukurukuru Media

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