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Western Cape education MEC calls for scrapping of social distancing rule

A teacher sanitises the hands of pupils as they line up for the first day of school on January 12 2022 at Setlabotjha Primary School in Sebokeng. File photo.
A teacher sanitises the hands of pupils as they line up for the first day of school on January 12 2022 at Setlabotjha Primary School in Sebokeng. File photo.
Image: Alaister Russell/Sunday Times

Western Cape education MEC Debbie Schäfer has called for the scrapping of the one-metre social distancing rule in classrooms so all pupils can return to school.

On Tuesday basic education minister Angie Motshekga said rotational learning would continue because social distancing requirements were still in place.

Her department presented a submission to the national coronavirus command council last year to have the social distancing requirement reduced from 1.5m to half a metre. It was subsequently reduced to one metre.

Motshekga said in view of the decision to “live side-by-side with the virus” they will appeal to the department of co-operative governance and traditional affairs to reduce social distancing to half a metre.

“We can’t just announce tomorrow every child ‘voetstoots skool toe’. It’s a process we have to negotiate,” she said.

Schäfer said pupils at about 88% of primary schools in the province were attending school on a rotational basis because they could not comply with the one-metre requirement.

“There is strong and mounting evidence to suggest that the learning losses our young people are suffering are devastating and will have long-term negative consequences.”

According to the National Income Dynamics Study Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (Nids-Cram) published in May 2021, primary school children in no-fee schools in 2020 learnt 50% to 75% less than what they normally learn.

In 2021 significant teaching time losses continued as a result of rotational timetables.

Schäfer said another area of concern was that many pupils were not able to access the feeding scheme as often as they should and the on-off attendance was contributing to a higher dropout rate.

“Implementing a rotational model in schools is not easy. It requires dedicated planning and continued pressure to keep up with the curriculum while teaching different cohorts of pupils on different days.”

The department has been inundated with complaints from parents wanting rotational classes to end.

“The pandemic has changed over the past two years and we must return to a state of normality. Depriving our children of the opportunity to attend school full-time in the circumstances is no longer justified.”

To avoid a generational catastrophe they were calling on the national department and department of co-operative governance and traditional affairs to make changes to the regulations and directions.

DA shadow minister of basic education Baxolile Nodada has also called for the return of all pupils, saying researchers and scientists have warned of the dangers of rotational schooling for primary school pupils.

“Pupil dropouts are increasing as many do not return to school due to continued disruptions. Unless the department steps in, this year will see an increase in dropouts,” said Nodada.​

TimesLIVE


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