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    SOCIAL DISTANCING: A huge price to pay in Education

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    The measures introduced since the Covid-19 has dealt the education sector an enormous blow which many would not be comfortable to talk about soon. Social distancing in the school environment meant that the schools needed to find a way of running timetables that are staggered to give space for this social distancing method. Some schools opted for a one week in and one week out in a bid to accommodate both social distancing and class attendance. Well-resourced schools worked with a two days and a three-day weeks. Where possible they complimented the off days with online learning, but it has dealt the average township school a tremendous blow through this program. 

    Was this the most effective method to manage schools during the pandemic? I do not believe it to be the most effective method. A normal classroom in every school has about 7 windows and that maximizes the ventilation within the classroom. The appointment of health officials in the schools responsible for sanitization was a step in the right direction to maximise the reduction of infection. The masks being made compulsory in the classroom became an added advantage in the fight against infection. With these measures in place, why is it necessary to disrupt the schooling at full capacity?

    The longest period in a school is at most an hour. The average class size is 50 learners in a crowded class. An average PUTCO bus carries 65 passengers at full capacity driving from Soweto to Midrand and spend over an hour in the morning traffic. Most buses carry 65 passengers from Limpopo province to Johannesburg, travelling over 4 hours with passengers at full capacity every day. And average plane travels 10 and half hours from OR Tambo to Brazil, 15 hours from Johannesburg to Paris, or 16 and half hours from OR Tambo to Hong Kong without social distancing. Some of these planes will carry 150 and more passengers in full capacity. If people can be in a plane for over 10 hours at full capacity where windows are not used for direct ventilation, why would the schools be subjected to social distancing while it is slowing the pace of learning which will obvious and adverse effects on the learners in the longer run? If the infection can happen as insinuated by this the numbers of learners in the classroom as it makes us to believe, that the infection in the bus, taxi and the plane would do worse as the passengers stay in those modes of transport for longer period.

    In the Eastern Cape, education MEC Fundile David Gade reported they believed over 130 000 learners have dropped out. The global Citizen publication reported in November 2020 that an estimated dropout could be over 300 000. These numbers are for the dropout, but there’s more to discuss regarding the quality of teaching and learning that may have been adversely affected by the department’s adjusted content for 2020. This will carry on opening a knowledge gap for learners in various grades.

    In the entire country, children are missing out on school hours and ultimately content that it will affect the competence levels at the end of each grade. This is an issue that many people do not want to talk about and the education officials are doing their best to manage this education scandal which will be spoken about sometime in the future when the Covid dust settle. The quality of the grade 12 of 2021 is something that we should never shy away from. This learner had very little time at school in 2020 and continues to have some limited teaching. In 2021. This learner’s envisaged content coverage has seriously been affected as the curriculum was adjusted last year and the coverage is again affected this year. When content covered is reduced, it reduces the quality of the learner and ultimately the quality of the student the country sends to university. Many will punt the argument of lives versus education, there is no comparison. The important issue is the saving not only of the curriculum, but the entire and quality curriculum coverage. I have already heard many saying it’s the year of the pandemic and everything is slow, this can’t be because our children are already disadvantaged and we cannot afford to loose time.

    The effects of this policy of social distancing in schools will be felt for a long time by individual learners’ more than by the department of education. When the pandemic was initially declared, many people were scared and everything made sense to them, but we are now into the pandemic and we have learned more about the virus. The sooner this regulation is reversed, the better for the learners and the quality of teaching and learning.

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