Education experts divided on closing schools

Some education experts have joined the growing call for schools to close as SA heads towards Covid-19 peaks.
Picture: Thulani Mbele

Some education experts have joined the growing calls for the government to shut schools until after SA’s expected Covid-19 infection peaks have passed.

Others have warned that with the different peaks expected in coming months, a “one-size-fits-all” strategy when it comes to keeping schools open may not work.

Education minister Angie Motshekga has been conducting a series of consultations with school governing bodies, principals, teachers unions and civil society regarding concerns about keeping schools open amid rising infections.

Prof Vimolan Mudaly, of the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s School of Education, believes schools should close immediately.

“No normal learning or teaching can take place in an abnormal environment. It’s like asking schools to continue while fighter planes drop bombs all around the schools. Learners are now in a learning pause and any attempt to get them into school will be a farce. No learning can take place with so much of fear, uncertainty and anxiety.

“The life expectancy in SA is about 63 years. Losing one year of schooling is relatively insignificant as compared to death. The pressure to open schools is absurd and from a pedagogical point of view, nothing can be gained by forcing children and teachers into schools for the sake of opening schools.

“I’d rather our children lost a few more months than their lives. Learning is lifelong and we can always get back to where we left off in March,” said Mudaly.

Prof Lesley Wood, director of community-based educational research at North-West University, said while the closure of schools was a complex issue, she didn’t believe they should remain open now.

“Since we are told that infections will peak soon, perhaps we should wait until end August to reassess.

“It is a complex issue, but whatever way you look at it, those attending under-resourced schools or those who live in contexts of socio-economic disadvantage will suffer the most.

“I would support closing all schools until the danger has passed, but this will widen the gap between the advantaged and disadvantaged learners,” said Wood.

Prof Labby Ramrathan, of the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s School of Education, said with no clear indication of SA’s peaks, it made it difficult to “make any firm decisions on whether to keep schools open or closed”.

He believes there should not be a single decision on whether to keep schools open.

“Monitoring of community transmissions must be done to inform the decision making process. School communities need to be involved in decision making about their respective school on whether to keep it open or to close school.

“What is crucial is opportunities for learners to learn and this can be facilitated through several ways. At the same time, schools should aspire to have as few learners in schools at a time as possible.

“An example of how schools can remain open is to receive learners from a single grade to attend schools on one day of a two-week cycle.

“When the learners attend school, a two-week learning programme can be presented to learners and a review of what has been done in the previous two weeks can take place.

“This is one example of how schools can remain open during this pandemic, even if it peaks. A controlled access to school is possible.

“A one-size–fits-all strategy will not work in this country, especially with the high levels of uncertainty that prevail,” he said.

By Suthentira Govender – TimesLIVE

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