Charles Molele and Nyakallo Tefu
Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga this week meets top education officials, including provincial MECs and heads of education departments to discuss proposed amendments to the 2020 School Curriculum, which could result in the cancellation of the June and September school holidays.
The high profile meeting is expected to take place between Wednesday and Thursday and will also discuss proposals by teacher union Sadtu to conduct compulsory mass screening of all learners and teachers before the re-opening of schools.
The earlier than expected school closures in March has adversely affected all learning programmes in public, independent and private schools as well as the early child development centres across the country.
Government is now looking at May 5 as a possible date for the reopening of schools after President Cyril Ramaphosa’s decision to extend the lockdown to end of April.
Inside Education reported two weeks ago that the department was looking at the possibilities of postponing this year’s matric supplementary examinations in June to December due to coronavirus pandemic disruption of the 2020 academic year.
There have also been behind-the-scenes discussions within the Basic Education Department to amend the curriculum as part of government’s plans to recover time lost during the lockdown period.
These will, among others, include cancellation of the June and Septermber holidays.
Learners could also find themselves having to attend schooling right through seven days a week in order to get back on track and make up for the lost time.
Motshekga has said in recent days that the department was also preparing recovery materials which would intensify teaching at the end of the lockdown.
Professor Mary Metcalfe said basic education would need to contract the cirruculum as part of its recovery plans for at least 18 months.
“I am confident of the careful thinking that is being invested in the unfolding scenarios by the DBE. Contracting the curriculum in a recovery plan of at least 18 months without compromising the development of core knowledge and skills in each subject is an inevitability and a priority – and teachers will need support in implementing this appropriately relative to the needs of learners,” said Metcalfe.
“The big unknown is the various scenarios for schools opening, how a phased introduction will work in practice, and over what time frame. The greatest priority for learners during the lock down is for them to be supported to have structured and purposeful days that include learning – but few families have the resources to ‘replace’ the learning of school, and teachers will need to pull together where the learners are in planning forward; typically learners ‘forget’ some learning after an extended school break.”
Ruksana Osman, Professor and Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Wits University, said amendments to the cirruculum was another viable way to recover lost time during the lockdown.
“Curriculum amendments can certainly be made in thoughtful ways; secondly calendars can be adjusted and finally online can be a viable option,” said Osman.
“For a while now the DBE has been speaking about rollout of tablets in schools. Some of this could work for some of the students. This will not be a perfect solution that will work for all, and searching for one solution in an Imperfect context will not work. We need multiple approaches. Most important thoughtful interventions with due consideration for learning at this point is what will work. Focusing on online initiatives for all in an equitable way can help us out of the question about cancelling the year or having 7-day week school week. This virus has taught us that being resilient, caring and agile is what works,” said Osman.
After her meeting with provincial MECs and HODs, Motshekga will table the recovery plan to cabinet for further deliberation before the plan gets implemented.
During a meeting of directors general at the weekend, it was proposed that schools should reopen on May 5 following the president’s decision to extend the lockdown period to end of April.
“There’s a view that schools must be reopened on May 5, but there’s high possibility that not all schools would be reopened depending on whether or not the areas in which they are located are regarded as high risk areas,” said a senior government official who asked to remain annonymous.
He added: “There was consensus during the meeting that the lockdown liftment should be done gradually. Areas that are high risk should remain closed. We cant lift the lockdown throughout the entire country as this could undo the progress that we have made in flattening the curve. There are areas that are high risk and if we lift the lockdown in those areas, it would be recipe for disaster,” said the senior government official, who attended the National Command team secretariat meeting at the weekend.
A senior Gauteng education official told Inside Education the province supperted calls to conduct screening of all learners and teachers before schools reopen.
“One of the things that we need to look at is mass screening of the learners because we dont know who is positive or negative. We can’t have an influx of kids coming back to schools without knowing their status. We also need to discuss how to go about the process of fumigating the schools before learning resumes. We must also agree on the protocols around social distancing and whether or not learners put on musks on a daily basis and what the financial implications of that will be. The fact of the matter is that the schooling environment is going to be very different. Even within the department, we are going to have to decide whether its a wise move to have everyone back at work at the end of the lockdown or say only senior management should be back at the office while the rest of the officials are working from home,” said the provincial education official.