Uncertainty in education

Westlake Primary School pupils queue to get a meal as well as their workbooks during the national lockdown.

While children who have computers and data are being home-schooled during the lockdown, those in poorer neighbourhoods, such as Westlake, have a harder time continuing with their studies.

Westlake Primary School principal Landie Diamond says schools – especially township schools like hers – are facing a lot of uncertainty right now, but she’s determined to find solutions to the problems facing her pupils.

“I don’t want to raise anxieties during this time, I want to strengthen my children, I want to show them that we can defeat this emotionally too.”

Less than 10% of her pupils have access to smart phones, Ms Diamond says, so she has had to find other ways to get school work to them during lockdown.

She and her student governing body have been distributing workbooks and worksheets throughout the lockdown so pupils can work independently of a teacher.

The activities remind the pupils of last term’s work and they also slowly introduce the second term’s work.

“The parents are showing initiative. One parent even came and took pictures of the activities on their phone to send to the child who’s currently in Eersterivier. That parent came back with questions afterwards. That shows how engaging that parent is with the content.”

Last week, Ms Diamond distributed mental-health packs to her pupils in Westlake, asking them how they feel and telling them they are special.

The school also gives daily meals to 250 of the pupils who usually rely on the school’s feeding scheme.

The meals are donated by The Ackerman Family Foundation (“A meal a day at Westlake,” Constantiaberg Bulletin, April 16).

This week, Ms Diamond is organising literacy and numeracy packs for pupils’ parents, to help them teach their children.

She is now waiting to hear from the Department of Basic Education and the Western Cape Education Department on how to adapt the curriculum to the current circumstances.

Education MEC Debbie Schafer said schools should print weekly lessons and distribute them at feeding schemes in cases where lessons could not continue online.

The department had sent a survey to schools last week to see which ones were unable to rely on digital distance learning.

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“We need to have a non-digital, as well as a digital approach to curriculum delivery during this time, and even beyond. The world has already shifted into a digital landscape, and we need to encourage our schools and teachers to embrace it. A blended approach to learning has already begun. We just need to ensure that all our learners benefit.”

Ms Schafer said the department had asked schools before lockdown to ensure pupils could take home textbooks and workbooks so parents could help their children with schooling.

“A parent cannot replace a teacher. However, they do have a role to play to keep their children positively stimulated and engaged in educational activities,” Ms Schafer said.

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga is due to table proposals before cabinet to overhaul the academic calendar to make up for lost time.

The proposals include cutting the June and September holidays; deploying health workers to schools; moving November exams to December; adding another school day and extra hours to the school day; and introducing school camps or hostels.