Local primary school principals have unanimously agreed that the nationwide lockdown has been one of the most difficult periods, especially for the impoverished communities they serve.
In separate interviews with City Vision the principals said they still battle to come to terms with the amount of damage Covid-19 is causing in communities.
They added that the pandemic is calling for the introduction of new measures in order to reach homes where some have no technology.
They said the country already has literacy and numeracy challenges and the current environment would add to the problems.
Mphicothi Qantolo, principal at Christmas Tinto, described this time “as a very difficult period of my era as a human being”.
“It is still hard to believe what is happening. How does one plan for something like this in an impoverished community?
“How do you as a school headmaster and teachers communicate with parents that live below the breadline with no technology in the house?
“This has paralysed our (township) schools and exposed not only us as township schools but the entire education system. As a school, we have teachers that use WhatsApp to do their lessons but the response is poor not because people are not willing because they are not able,” he said.
Qantolo lamented that parents cannot do homework under normal circumstances so it was rather ambitious to think now that parents will become literate overnight.
“Apart from illiterate parents, data is an issue and access to technology. So we have WhatsApp groups for the foundation phase and in the intermediate and senior phase only mathematics for now and some language stories. We also gave learners holiday homework when they closed,” he said.
Thobile Majingo, principal at ACJ Phakade, described the current situation as a “tricky and challenging” one.
“This lockdown has negatively impacted our school programmes. During closing we had issued out some work to be done by learners, which I can confirm was not enough. Now that the lockdown has been extended it poses a challenge once more, as you know that in our communities it’s not easy to locate and communicate to our parents and learners if the schools are closed,” he highlighted.
Majingo said they didn’t have, as township schools, the privilege of being connected “with our parents through technology as privileged schools do”.
He said few teachers have WhatsApp groups, which they told him it was not effective.
“All in all we are stuck. It is a huge challenge in our communities, as not every parent has DStv, the 317 channel where they have all these educational programmes,” he said.
Qantolo said they were far behind in terms of technology and needed to invest in technology such as school websites to upload year plans, activities and lesson plan demonstrations for parents.
The principals believe the measures put in place by the department such as learning channels on DStv, downloads that they forward to parents on their WhatsApp groups, Vodacom free internet education initiatives and so forth were not entirely helpful as some families have no TVs.
Debbie Schafer, provincial education minister strongly encouraged parents to promote reading as a daily activity in their homes. She says this may include dedicating a special time for reading on their own or as a family.
“A child can learn using a variety of reading materials in one’s home – be it a book, magazine, newspaper, recipe or even the back of a washing powder packet. Words are everywhere. Let them practice reading constantly,” she encouraged.
Schafer said families can end their day with a play that their child has written or based on something they have read. “They can read to you, you can read to them, they can write about what they have read. You can debate an article in a newspaper.
“We do, of course, realise that some learners do not have access to laptops, tablets, or data. Inequality levels still exist. However, it cannot and will not distract us from making progress in the area of e-learning and I continue to fight for zero-rating on education-related sites,” she said.