Educational programmes

Lukhanyo Mangona, Khayelitsha

On Monday June 8 the schools finally reopened for grades 7 and 12.

Following a fortnight of power tussles between teacher unions and government 1,6 million pupils reported for school this week.

As is always the case with this kind of muscle-flexing between raging educational bulls, it is always the pupils and their frustrated parents who bear the brunt.

President Cyril Ramaphosa put the country into lockdown in March and he was rightly congratulated by some pundits and the World Health Organization.

Amid all these praises there was something that we did not ask ourselves: what then do you do during this lockdown?

The problem is that the government thought they could easily frog-arm us into our homes using blood-thirsty military (remember the name of Collins Khoza) and hope that the Covid-19 pandemic will go away.

As weeks dragged on it became clear that the pandemic is not going away and that the academic year was facing jeopardy, leaving parents and their children frustrated and desperate.

When the country was put in lockdown we didn’t fore-think and heed the warning of Professor Saliem Abdul Kariem that this virus is not going away and that we must learn to live with it.

We should have used the lockdown to run a militant campaign to educate people in general and children in particular about how to live with Covid-19.

We should have been preparing people to live under the new normal. But no, we shovelled people into homes and let SABC bombard them with mindless soapies instead of using that airtime to teach people to live under this pandemic.

We should have been running comprehensive programmes on Covid-19 and blending these with academic programmes for all grades on free-to-air channels so we can reach a critical mass of children. I am not talking here of flimsy educational programmes that are aired at odd hours of the day. I am talking programmes that are on par with what William Smith used to deliver in the 90s.

In the weeks leading up to the reopening of schools I have been comparing notes with a friend and fellow education activist who is currently teaching kindergarten in Hong Kong.

She sent me me comprehensive pamphlets that were prepared by think tanks for distribution in preparation of reopening of schools.

She has been sharing with me how they have been teaching children as young as 6 years old on how to live under Covid-19.

They have been teaching children how to wear masks properly, handle educational toys and incorporate educational games using appropriate social distancing.

I scratched around looking for similar programmes in South Africa but I only stumbled on a 15-minute piece done by some academic on SAfm. Others are just some public service announcements playfully done by a bunch of “celebrities”.

If countries such as these Asian giants with all their smart educational systems take this pandemic serious how beneficial would this have been for us with a limping educational system.

I believe this would have put at ease all frustrations and anxiety felt by parents.

Despite all these governmental shortcomings and the empathy I have for the frustrations of parents, I still lean on the side of science that we can’t halt the schooling indefinitely here.

I understand that respected academics have weighed in on this matter and some have suggested that we throw the academic year out of the window, promote everyone, only assess Grade 12s and hope to sort out everything later.

But my view is that we can still take a more nuanced approach.

Firstly our education system has serious knowledge and educational backlogs and we can’t afford to lose the academic year.

We will need to collapse the life orientation curriculum and replace it with Covid-19 education and continue to phase in schooling until we incorporate all grades.

Lukhanyo Mangona is founder of MaTS Tutoring Service, which specialises in maths and science tutoring.