The Citizen (Gauteng) - - FRONT PAGE - – simniki­weh@cit­i­ Simnikiwe Hlat­sha­neni

Opin­ion is di­vided about the mer­its of pupils re­turn­ing to school, with some doubt­ing gov­ern­ment’s abil­ity to en­sure all the nec­es­sary Covid-19 pro­to­cols are in place and oth­ers say­ing kids are safer in their class­rooms than at home.

Con­cerns re­main over how soon gov­ern­ment will de­liver on es­sen­tial pro­to­cols.

Some par­ents, teach­ers and an ed­u­ca­tion ex­pert agree that chil­dren were bet­ter off at school, de­spite the fears of a loom­ing spike in Covid-19 cases as 1 June drew closer.

Ac­cord­ing to Dr Wy­cliffe Otieno, Chief of Ed­u­ca­tion for Unicef South Africa, for mil­lions of un­der­priv­i­leged school-go­ing chil­dren, schools were safe spa­ces from toxic home en­vi­ron­ments with lit­tle space for so­cial dis­tanc­ing or even learn­ing.

“First, school is where chil­dren spend most of the time and it has been a very ab­nor­mal and iso­lat­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for many who of­ten get so much more than just ed­u­ca­tion from school,” said Otieno.

“School is where many pupils get their food, they so­cialise, get ac­cess to learn­ing ma­te­rial and in­ter­act with teach­ers and it is where in many cases they are safer than at home.”

Do­mes­tic vi­o­lence num­bers, which spiked world­wide dur­ing the pan­demic, in­di­cated the unique so­cial role played by schools in com­mu­ni­ties plagued by vi­o­lence, al­co­holism and drug ad­dic­tion.

Par­ent and ed­u­ca­tion ex­pert Dr Jaco Dea­con is look­ing for­ward to the re­open­ing of schools, de­spite the con­cern that gov­ern­ment needed to act fast in or­der to meet its Covid-19 safety ob­jec­tives.

Dea­con de­scribed the past 55 days of home school­ing as a valu­able life les­son and com­mended staff at the Bloem­fontein pub­lic schools at­tended by his three chil­dren – Jim Fouche High School and Fichardt­park Pri­mary School.

“I must com­pli­ment both the pri­mary and the high school be­cause of the way teach­ers have con­tin­ued with the ed­u­ca­tion to the best of their abil­ity with Zoom, What­sApp voice-notes and ev­ery­thing.

“As a par­ent, I be­lieve both from hear­ing from the school and the di­rect ex­pe­ri­ence I have had that we will be ready for school to start in June,” he said.

Dea­con and his wife, who is a teacher at a spe­cial school, said, as par­ents, they went to great lengths to main­tain a mod­icum of nor­mal­ity at home, de­spite the uncer­tainty brought on by the pan­demic.

House­hold chores and sleep­ing times were as reg­i­mented as school work, which he stressed was key to help­ing chil­dren cope with the new or­der of ev­ery­day life.

Vashna Singh, the mother of a Grade 10 boy, said she and her hus­band noted sig­nif­i­cant pos­i­tive ef­fects of their son work­ing from home.

He has been learn­ing to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for his own aca­demic progress and nav­i­gate the chal­lenges and strengths of on­line and dis­tance learn­ing.

But she ac­knowl­edged that she and other par­ents had wit­nessed the psy­cho­log­i­cal ef­fect the sud­den changes brought on by the pan­demic.

“It is ob­vi­ously not nor­mal for chil­dren to be away from school for this long,” said Singh.

“Not even the De­cem­ber hol­i­days are this long and there is a sense of iso­la­tion, as well as hav­ing to cope with learn­ing from home.”

Both par­ents ac­knowl­edged the priv­i­leged po­si­tion of their fam­i­lies in be­ing able to pro­vide their chil­dren with the gad­gets, in­ter­net con­nec­tiv­ity and con­ducive learn­ing en­vi­ron­ments for their chil­dren to learn at home.

“We also felt it very im­por­tant to help our chil­dren un­der­stand that we are very priv­i­leged and that some chil­dren have to cope with even more dur­ing this time,” said Dea­con.

“We think it’s very im­por­tant to ex­plain what priv­i­lege is and what we can do to help those who are un­der­priv­i­leged.”

He added that 9.4 mil­lion pupils re­lied solely on the school nutri­tion pro­gramme and this was among many things which a lucky few par­ents had to think about when it came to their chil­dren’s ed­u­ca­tion.

But con­cerns re­mained over how soon gov­ern­ment would be able to de­liver on such es­sen­tial Covid-19 pro­to­cols such as per­sonal pro­tec­tive equip­ment (PPE) for staff and the in­stal­la­tion of san­i­ta­tion and wa­ter sys­tems in un­der­funded schools.

Dea­con, who is also the CEO of the Fed­er­a­tion of Gov­ern­ing Bod­ies of South African Schools, said con­cerns re­mained over whether pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments would be able to make good on Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Angie Mot­shekga’s prom­ises of ready schools with all the cor­rect Covid-19 pro­to­cols ob­served, come next month.

I think we will be ready for school to start in June

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