Back to primary school daily on July 26, but not in Covid-19 ‘hotspot’ areas

01 June 2021 - 14:15
By prega govender AND Prega Govender
Primary schools in 'hotspot' areas will continue with rotational learning during the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. File photo.
Image: Iavan Pijoos Primary schools in 'hotspot' areas will continue with rotational learning during the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. File photo.

All primary school pupils, and pupils with special education needs, will be allowed to return on a daily basis from July 26 only if their school does not fall into an area declared to be a Covid-19 “hotspot” or “high-risk hotspot”.

Dr Faith Khumalo, chief director for care and support at schools in the basic education department, told parliament on Tuesday they will be using the health department’s four alert levels to determine a school’s level of risk.

Providing an update on school readiness for a possible third wave of Covid-19 infections, she said if a primary school is in an area declared to be alert level 1 (vigilance) or level 2 (emerging hotspot), then all pupils can return on a daily basis.

Primary schools in areas falling under alert level 3 (hotspot) and level 4 (high-risk hotspot) will have to continue with rotational classes with pupils attending class on alternate days.

Basic education minister Angie Motshekga gazetted amendments to the directions on the reopening of schools on Friday, paving the way for the return of all primary school pupils and pupils with special education needs provided the risk-adjusted differentiated strategy is implemented.

The alert levels will be determined by the number of new Covid-19 cases in a geographical area.

Khumalo said they will seek to get data on Covid -19 cases from the health department every second week and share this information with provinces and districts “so they will be able to amend and update their strategy according to the changing risk”.

“When the risk increases, we must retreat to much stricter levels of restriction, meaning we must go back to rotational teaching.”

She said they were receiving “worrying indications that there may be schools in which the leadership is telling pupils not to tell anyone when there are cases so they can continue with daily attendance”.

“This is irresponsible and unethical. It also does not provide the sector and country with a good sense of what is happening in schools so they can begin to put in a differentiated strategy when we need to do so.”

She said they were proposing the full return of all primary school pupils and pupils with special education needs by July because “SA may be over the third wave by then”.

“We know many teachers are nervous about facing full classrooms, even though science is saying the risk doesn’t come from pupils but from other adults in the environment and their private spaces.”

Prof Martin Gustafsson, an adviser to the department, said 54% of contact time was lost by pupils last year following school closures and rotational attendance.

“Although schools were open for much of 2020 and for the current period, most schools are following some kind of rotational arrangement and that means pupils are losing 50% or sometimes more of schooling.”

He said one of the positives from the data was that “we have not lost pupils completely”.

‘This is a problem that has occurred in other countries but apparently not in SA. There has been no large number of pupils who have completely disappeared out of the schooling system.”

He said that pupils were returning and this “facilitates the return to complete schooling”.

“At least 75% of a year’s worth of learning was lost in 2020. There have been all sorts of effects, such as forgetting and the trauma of the disruption.

“In SA we have done a relatively good job of trying to get as much schooling as possible done, and we are going to reap the benefits of that in the coming decades.”

However, Gustafsson warned that “decades into the future we are going to see, in a sense, a kind of lost generation”.

“We are going to see people of a particular age with fewer post-school qualifications and lower earnings. This is almost like a war. This is something that will be felt for a long time and we need to minimise that tragedy as far as we can.”