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Are Schools Ready For The 2021 Academic Year?

There are inequalities in the education system that have been difficult to ignore since the Covid-19 lockdown. The big question that's up for debate is whether the education system is ready for the 2021 academic year, despite the challenges it faced in 2020.

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Educational expert from Wits University, Professor Brahm Fleisch has suggested that schools take a more tailored approach to understand what it is exactly that learners need more help with. This is the only way that learners will have their educational needs met after the disruptions they had this year.

Matakanya Matakanye, General Secretary of the National Association of School Governing Bodies said learners in public schools have suffered a great loss compared to learners in well-resourced private schools.

"What really worries us most is the gap that has been created by this pandemic among the poorest of the poor, the working class, the rural, the deep rural, the township children because the rich schools never lost any time since the 18th of March when the President declared the schools to be closed."

Executive Director of the Independent Schools Association of Southern Africa (ISASA), Lebogang Montjane confirmed that private schools have not lost out on teaching time. 

In July this year, Cosas threatened to shut down private schools because they were not included in the four-week break that the President announced. The four-week break happened between 27 July and 24 August for all public schools.

Learners in grade 12 returned to school on 3 August, while learners in grade 7 returned to school on 10 August. 

Cosas took action because it felt that the decision to keep private schools open while public schools remained closed created more inequality in the education system. 

"When we talk about equal education, we need to speak from one voice and that means we need to speak from one point" said Beauty Blennies.

"We are going to try and gain access to schools and we are going to shut down private schools. We cannot allow segregation to be practiced during this pandemic”.

Executive Director of ISASA, Lebogang Montjane had told News24 that many independent schools were doing online learning and had been doing it for some time.

"It is regrettable that Cosas is targeting independent schools. Independent schools have [never] actually closed. When the president shut down [during Level 5 lockdown], all our members went to remote learning".

School principals have also been facing some issues because of the lockdown. President of the SA Principals Association, David de Korte said:

"Every single school across the country is gonna have to restart the academic programme next year because the children have struggled with the lockdown. Some children have been able to work remotely but most children haven't had that opportunity so there have been large amounts of time where they haven't done any work and they've got out of the habit of working."

As a result, some learners have struggled to do school work since they've been back at school. There have been concerns that this could lead to a high drop out rate this year. 

The Zero Dropout Campaign did an analysis which showed that a number of learners disappear from the school system before they reaching grade 12.

It is still unclear how many more are leaving the school system because the way South Africa currently tracks data doesn't allow for the movement of learners to be seen. 

"Learners are leaving school because of disengagement and drop out is the ultimate consequence of disengagement. Disengagement is impacted by a range of factors that learners have to face." said Merle Mansfield of the Zero Dropout Campaign.

On top of having to deal with the changes to the school programme brought about by the lockdown, learners have been facing a number of other factors. These factors include experiencing trauma, family issues, community violence, inequality and poverty. 

The Zero Dropout Campaign had 3 recommendations for the Department of Basic Education. 

  1. Put a target in place for schools that will hold the education system accountable. 
  2. Improve data tracking -This will create a warning system to alert officials about learners who are on the verge of dropping out.
  3. Provide psychosocial support - This includes having processes and referral systems to support learners 

 

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