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Monday, December 6, 2021

Day One: Mixed Emotions As Alexandra Township Learners Return To School

As part of back to school this week, Inside Education went on a visit to Bovet Primary School in Alexandra Township, north of Johannesburg, where learners were both anxious and excited to return after spending two months at home due to COVID-19 lockdown.


THERE WAS raw emotion, fear and loathing among learners and teachers when Bovet Primary School, located in the sprawling township of Alexandra, north of Johannesburg, reopened its doors on Monday June 8.

To the multitudes, going back to school was suffused with happy emotions as they reunited with friends and teachers last seen two months ago when President Cyril Ramaphosa imposed a nationwide lockdown due to the outbreak of the coronavirus outbreak.

Let me tell you one thing; life at schools will no longer be the same for these learners and their teachers, perhaps for generations to come.

Entering the school premises, I was struck by COVID-19 related safety measures in place, with signs everywhere like “Social Distancing”, “Do Not Remove Your Mask”, “Stay In line, You Are Too Close To Each Other”.

This is what the first day of schooling at Bovet Primary School post-Level 5 lockdown looked like.

After two months of school closures, what usually resembled a joyous day where children hugged each other and played together when they returned to schools, resembled an army garrison during a time of war.

It is no longer a matter of conjecture that this will now be the ‘new norm’ for the ‘Lockdown-Drill Generation’ and those who will come after them.

Walking inside different classrooms at the school, the first thing every learner did was to get hand-sanitized and undergo checks to monitor if they had a cloth mask on.

The MEC for Economic Development Morakane Mosupyoe visited the school on Monday to assess its state of readiness.

When they saw her, one of the learners put his hand up and complained about being strangled by his cloth mask. “Madam, this mask really hurts my ears. I feel like it is too small,” he said as he reached for his cloth mask’s ear guard.

Mosupyoe’s visit included a brief tour to different classrooms, including the school’s kitchen where learners’ food was being prepared by neatly dressed professional chefs.

As you walked in, you witnessed how the floors were taped and how chairs had been re-arranged a meter away from each other to observe social distancing protocols.

“I am happy with how the kitchen is set up and how clean it is, this means our children’s health is a priority,” said Mosupyoe.

Bovet Primary School is also responsible for providing food to the majority of the learners who have for the past two months depended on their parents to make ends meet during the lockdown.

During lunchtime, learners left their classrooms for the school kitchen in a formation, practicing social distancing protocols as dictated by the COVID-19 Gauteng Youth Brigade and teachers.

As they stood behind one another close to a water tap, one of the staff members at the school came with a bottle of liquid soap, pouring a drop on each learner’s palm.

One by one the learners walked to the tap to wash their hands, and when they were done, the COVID-19 Gauteng Youth Brigade members ticked their names off the register before proceeding to the kitchen to receive their daily rations.

Excited, one of the learners said, “I am so excited to be back at school after a long period at home,” as he walked away to enjoy his food in relative peace.

Mosupyoe said the school was ready and safe to continue with the 2020 academic year.

“Today was induction for Bovet Primary School and I am happy with the progress of the school,” said Mosupyoe.

Of the 2 089 schools in Gauteng, only 2 078 reopened on Monday June 8.

Mosupyoe observed that at Bovet Primary School, some of the toilets were not working.

She promised that the toilets would be fixed by the end of the first day of schooling.

“We need to come together not only to address the immediate educational consequences of this unprecedented crisis, but to build up the longer-term resilience of education systems,” she said.

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga said schools that were not ready to receive learners would also be fixed by end of the week.

“The golden rule is, there will be no school that will resume if not ready to do so. For the remaining 5% or so learners, alternative measures have been developed by different districts, such as temporarily using neighbouring schools, using underutilised spaces in boarding schools and putting other learners in camps.”

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