While epidemiologists and scientists are racing against time to find a vaccine for the deadly Covid-19 coronavirus, non-profit organisations in the education sector are hard at work unleashing digital educational programmes to assist pupils during the national lockdown in South Africa.
Parents and teacher unions were gripped with fear and uncertainty following the decision by the department of basic education to close schools indefinitely.
Then came the 21-day lockdown as a government measure to manage and stifle the spread of the virus.
Now the National Education Collaboration Trust (Nect), in partnership with the department of basic education and the private sector, are joining hands to ensure that pupils are not left behind during this unprecedented lockdown.
According to Godwin Khosa, the trust’s chief executive, the initiative is part of the Covid-19 Comprehensive Pupils Support package.
It’s aim “is to support the department to reach the more than 13 million pupils currently at home”.
“This type of support is divided into six areas, namely online learning, communication dissemination, nutrition, health and hygiene, monitoring and evaluation, and teacher engagement,” Khosa said.
He said the lessons would be rolled out across the 75 education districts in the nine provinces.
In total 25 000 primary and high schools would be involved, with priority given to rural schools.
“The aim is to enable the learning experience to continue despite the outbreak of the virus by supporting the department to mobilise educational capacity from the society. We are doing this by talking to our partners, other NGOs, trade unions and the private sector,” he said.
Khosa said the collaboration had already yielded positive outcomes, with the UN Children’s Fund, a social change organisation Heartlines, the DG Murray Trust, the Zenex Foundation, Old Mutual, Momentum Metropolitan Holdings, FirstRand, the SABC, DStv and four of South Africa’s network providers coming on board.
The lessons will be broadcast on radio and TV in both the mainstream and community media, while network providers Vodacom, Cell C, MTN and Telkom will supply content via SMS and video streaming.
With the possibility of the lockdown being extended if new Covid-19 cases increase, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga insisted that this year’s school calendar must be completed at all costs.
This, Motshekga said, would ensure that the already fragile education system was able to accommodate a new intake of pupils next year.
“The initiative has ensured that since the national 21-day lockdown took effect there has been a reasonable level of continuity,” said Khosa.
In addition, the programme entails touching base with teachers through teacher engagement, capacity building and development initiatives.
“In terms of the battle line against this disease, at the top are the health workers and then the teachers. We are engaging teachers on how they can protect themselves and their pupils.
“Apart from this, we are leveraging opportunities to support teacher development initiatives. These include improvement of teaching in the classroom and remote teaching,” said Khosa.
An interim steering committee made up of educationists would spearhead the education response plan and report frequently, he said.
Children must receive meals
Meanwhile, organisations fighting hunger have already predicted mass starvation, and a humanitarian crisis is waiting to explode as a result of the pandemic.
However, Nect said it was mobilising resources to ensure that pupils continued receive meals during the lockdown.
“Most of the pupils come from impoverished households and rely heavily on the school nutrition programme. With the closure of schools, these pupils are missing out on the much-needed meals. We are working in collaboration with retailers, our partners and the department of social development to ensure that food parcels are available and distributed to pupils under distress,” said Khosa.
This, he said, would be done through food drop-offs and distribution points across the country managed by the department of social development.
Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute, a non-profit organisation and independent research think-tank, has already supported a call for a child support grant top-up of R500 to support families that only depend on the grant.
The institute said this would stop households from suffering severe poverty as the battle to control the pandemic rages on.
Meanwhile, the University of Cape Town’s Children’s Institute also raised concerns over the devastating effects that the Covid-19 outbreak would have on poor families, especially on children.
“The lockdown is important to contain the virus, but it will increase poverty and food insecurity. South Africa’s unemployment rate is high and likely to rise as an immediate outcome of the lockdown and in the period beyond.
“We need to ensure that people’s lives are saved, not from the coronavirus but from starvation and diseases,” said Catherine Hall, a senior researcher at the institute.
Hall said social grants were effective in protecting children against the effects of poverty.
She added that considering that there was no social relief for the unemployed, social grants somehow filled this gap.
“Child poverty rates are high and they will be directly affected by rising unemployment and loss of income,” she said.
Nomarashiya Caluza, the SA Democratic Teachers Union secretary in KwaZulu-Natal, said the teacher development initiative was crucial.
“Technology and online learning are the future and not much has been done to re-skill and train teachers to prepare for the fourth industrial revolution. Crises such as the coronavirus should serve as a wake up call for government to invest more resources in teacher development and training on technological advancements in the education sector,” said Caluza.
She said because of a shortage of teachers with a grasp of e-leaning, state of the art facilities at various schools in the province were unused, severely affecting teaching and learning.
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