Covid-19: shaping the future of healthcare and education in SA

Written by Staff Writer


By Olivia Main

The reopening date for schools in South Africa was set for 15 February 2021. This was excellent news for teachers, pupils and parents who’ve all had to be resourceful in their efforts to keep up with constant changes, the curriculum, doing their homework – and schoolwork – while stuck at home.

Lack of readiness
Adding to the uncertainty, was a survey of 7 440 schools in South Africa which revealed that the majority were not yet ready to welcome learners back on 15 February. Assessing the material readiness, which is to say a ready supply of hand and surface sanitisers along with face masks, five teacher and education unions found that at least 40% of schools do not have adequate supplies. Further complicating matters, is that 53% said they are not confident that they can comply with government’s sanitising and social distancing protocols effectively.

According to the survey, readiness varies from province to province, with the Western Cape appearing to be best prepared to welcome students back. On the other end of the scale is KwaZulu-Natal, a province still struggling to equip itself. Other worrying indicators from the survey points to a drop in teachers’ psychological well-being, as educators are more and more faced with mounting Covid-19 infections and death among their colleagues, family and friends.

Accumulated gaps
The challenges the education department faces are truly monumental, as pointed out by the Department of Education’s Director General, Mathanzima Mweli. In a briefing to Parliament on 20 January, Mweli said that younger students are particularly at risk of forgetting about skills and knowledge acquired at school if they stop learning for extended periods of time.

“This creates a challenge of ‘accumulated gaps’ as they continue into further grades. We have therefore narrowed the curriculum, as part of a process known as ‘trimming’, which means that these students were not exposed to the full curriculum. However, in matric, they will be examined on the full contents of Grades 10, 11 and 12.”

Mweli said that the department was concerned about the Grade 12 cohort of 2021, who lost significant teaching time as Grade 11 pupils in 2020.

“The further delay of teaching this year places a huge burden on the system as we now not only have to catch up on Grade 12 content, but also on the Grade 11 content which was lost last year. It is going to be extremely difficult for the education system to recover the learning losses.”

Stepping up
Despite the challenges, many departments are stepping up to the plate to ensure 2021 will be a year of learning. According to Gauteng Education Department spokesperson Steve Mabona, “School managers have been busy with planning, making sure the educators will be furnished with necessary plans on how they will be teaching and [how they will be accommodating] those learners who have comorbidities and will be learning from home.”

He added that activity packs for pupils in Gauteng, who will be learning at home, have already been prepared. In addition, the department is making daily deliveries of masks, face shields and sanitisers to schools in the province, to “make sure that by the time we welcome learners, all will be ready, and learners will be just going into the classes and continuing [with learning]”.

Over 1.5 million learners in the province will have received food parcels by 12 February, as part of the department’s nutrition programme, added Mabona, and normal feeding will resume when schools open. To “address space challenges”, 211 mobile classrooms have been erected at schools. This will be bolstered by the opening of three new schools.

International Year of Health and Care Workers
Unsurprisingly, 2021 has been designated as the International Year of Health and Care Workers by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The designation, however, does not compare to the massive contribution and sacrifices health workers across the world are making to combat the virus. And South Africa is no exception.

In his address to the nation in mid-December, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said more than 38 000 health workers in the public sector had tested positive for Coronavirus. Of these, nearly 5 000 were admitted to hospital and 391 died. These numbers have spiked further during the second wave.

“As a nation, we owe so much to these brave and dedicated people and to their families, for without them, we would not have come this far,” Ramaphosa said.

Front of the line
The good news is that the president and government have begun the process to help healthcare workers protect themselves and their families against Covid-19. With the first of the Johnson & Johnson vaccines being administered, healthcare workers across the country have been made first priority.

“The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been shown in extensive trials to be safe and efficacious and will protect our health care workers from illness and death from COVID-19,” Ramaphosa said.

To that end, the government also launched the Electronic Vaccination Data System (EVDS), which is only open to all private, public, clinical and non-clinical healthcare workers for now. Registration is voluntary and government has cautioned that it does not guarantee that all will be vaccinated in the first phase.

The main idea behind the EVDS is to identify eligible vaccination beneficiaries, plan the supply of vaccines and ancillary items, allocate beneficiaries to their nearest available service point, and communicate with enrolled individuals about the vaccination programme. All that is needed is the person’s ID or passport number, the name of where they are employed and their professional registration details.



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