Education Emphasized – A new normal in schooling sees the safety of staff at the forefront

Education Emphasized- A new normal in schooling sees the safety of staff at the forefront

Written by Staff Writer

14/04/2021

By Jessie Taylor

 

The return to classrooms – what now?

As the first term of schooling draws to a close, learners and educators are slowly adapting to a new normal in teaching in the midst of the pandemic. Learners returned to their classrooms for the start of the academic year on Monday, 15 February 2021, after the second wave of Covdi-19 swept across the country. The first terms will run until Friday 23 April.

The new normal for schools includes the use of personal protective equipment, smaller classes and online learning – all with the focus on promoting the health and safety of teachers, staff and learners, Education minister Angie Motshekga said.

 

Counting the cost of Covid-19 in the classroom

Not only has Covid-19 caused disruptions to schooling and reduced teaching time, but it has also had a devastating effect on school staff. By February 2021, over 1100 teachers had passed away due to Covid-19, while 243 non-teaching staff had succumbed to the virus. The province most affected was the Eastern Cape, which had a death toll of 533 among teachers – almost half of the country’s fatalities.

To fill the staff shortages caused by teachers who have passed away, or who are at risk and unable to return to classrooms, the Department of Basic Education has employed 290,000 assistants, Motshekga announced.

“The Sector has welcomed close to 290 000 young people, who have been employed on contract as Education Assistants and General School Assistants.  These young people have been employed in our schools, as the Sector’s response to President Ramaphosa’s Fiscal Stimulus Package, announced in April 2020.  We call this initiative, the Basic Education Employment Initiative (BEEI),” she said.

The BEEI seeks to address Covid-19 related academic disruptions, as well as assisting in dealing with lingering systemic challenges.  Another key component of the BEEI is to provide support to workers negatively and directly impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, explained Motshekga.

“A portion of the R7 billion allocated for the BEEI, is targeted at saving SGB-funded posts in public schools and Government subsidised independent schools.  We are working hard to ensure that the delayed payments of some of these young people are addressed immediately,” she said.

 

A safety-first approach to school activities

To protect both staff and pupils, Motshekga has urged schools to adhere to strict safety procedures.

“We emphasise the critical importance of vigilance and strict adherence to the health and safety protocols, in order to save lives. Since the Covid-19 pandemic, the Department of Basic Education has been monitoring the state of provinces on a regular basis, to ensure that provinces have systems in place to cope under the pandemic; and to provide support, where support is needed; to ensure smooth opening and running of schools,” said Motshekga.

“We will continue to maintain the delicate balance between health and safety in schools on the one hand, while on the other, we deal with the curriculum gaps, identified during the 2020 academic year.”

This safety-focused approach must remain in place as schools return to extramural activities, now allowed under level one lockdown regulations. The Department of Basic Education announced the lifting of the ban on school sports events last month. However, Motshekga has urged pupils, teachers, coaches, and parents to be extra cautious during school activities amid concerns of a third wave of Coronavirus infections.

 

Lifting the ban 

The decision to lift the ban on school sporting events includes sports matches, physical education, extra-curricular activities, and any school sports tournaments. Co-curricular and enrichment programmes such as oral history, spelling bees, moot court, speech contests, debates and school clubs may also resume activities. Subject strict adherence to all social distancing, hygiene and safety measures, choir practice or rehearsals, choir competitions and interschool choir events may also resume. Currently, no spectators were allowed at events, and strict hygiene and safety measures to prevent and combat the spread of Covid-19 must be complied with, Motshekga said.

“We urge learners, coaches, teachers, parents, and other parties to work together to protect us from a possible third wave and to keep their loved ones safe,” Motshekga said.

 

 

 

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