Our little ones must go to school

MOSIBUDI MANGENA

ALTHOUGH one has always been aware of the parlous state of our education as a result of Covid-19, it was still alarming to listen to a Stellenbosch University academic saying on TV the other day that it will take no less than ten years for learning to recover in South Africa.

For almost a year now, our learners, from the kindergarten right up to university, have not had normal learning. Those in advantaged homes, have had better opportunities than their poorer counterparts through the use of technology. But even with them that is not an optimal way for children to learn. Education is a social thing, with children benefitting from the process of acquiring knowledge in the company of, interaction and cooperation with their cohorts.

Children from poor families and neighbourhoods have no such luck. They have neither the gadgets nor the data to engage in a learning process. Even if you could provide them with the means, they would probably still struggle due to lack of sufficient familiarity with this way of learning.

Not surprisingly, teachers in primary schools have observed that the rotational attendance system introduced to comply with Covid-19 restrictions is completely ineffective. The gaps make it difficult for the little ones to learn, retain or remember what they learnt several days ago. So, to the exasperation of their teachers, the kids learn almost nothing.

What this means is that the knowledge deficits that these primary school children have, will follow them for the rest of their educational journey. Most of them are likely to struggle with learning at high school and perhaps university. Drop-outs at every level are likely to follow.

Those of us who have moved around in the townships and villages, might have observed children who are supposed to be in school loitering around. Some have been up to all sorts of mischief, including the dreaded teenage pregnancies.

It is therefore comforting to hear that the basic education department intends to have primary school children going to school full time at the end of July 2021.  Although the damage is done, this step will go a long way towards mitigating further learning deficits to our children.

Moreover, medical science research all over the world has shown that children under ten years seldom get infected by Covid-19 and that their rate of infecting one another or adults is very low. Even if they get infected, their symptoms are likely to be mild or even asymptomatic.

It is also extremely pleasing that all teachers, support staff, school governing body members and food handlers at schools will be vaccinated in about ten days, starting on the 23rd June 23, 2021. This will undoubtedly give all involved some peace of mind.

Hopefully, the hiccups with vaccinations would soon be overcome so that as many in the population as possible would get their jabs. We would then have to ensure that high school learners return to full time attendance at schools as soon as possible. That should be followed by a rigorous programme to eradicate the learning gaps throughout the education pipeline. 

We should keep in mind that those children we fail to educate today would have reduced potential and ability to acquire skills, and therefore less capacity to contribute to the economy and society. Instead of tertiary education queues, some might end up at prison gates. Instead of steady jobs which would give them income, many might have to lengthen SASSA queues.

What we do now with our education system has consequences for generations to come. Let’s avoid intergenerational adverse effects of Covid-19 by ensuring that our children go to school, the only proviso being that we take care of all safety protocols.

Mosibudi Mangena

23/06/2021



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