Players wary as they gear up for start of new academic year

Covid-19 pressures still dog education sector

Unions raise concerns on the impact covid-19 may have on education in the new academic year
Unions raise concerns on the impact covid-19 may have on education in the new academic year
Image: Eugene Coetzee

Education stakeholders have raised concerns about an overloaded curriculum, continuing uncertainty due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and shortages of teachers and infrastructure as some of the challenges in the new academic year.

The 2020 academic programme in both basic and higher education was severely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, which hit the country from March last year.

As a result, universities were allowed to extend their academic programmes to next month to complete the 2020 academic year, with the 2021 calendar set to start between March and April.

Schools will open on January 27 and grade 12 results are expected to be announced on February 23, however, the largest teachers union believes the new academic year may be the same as the last one.

South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) general secretary Mugwena Maluleke said it expected to see the same disruptions in the new academic year. He said budget cuts in the department of education meant pupils may not achieve the required proficiency levels.

“The curriculum overload will have to be looked at if learners are to achieve the required proficiency levels in terms of the national curriculum and assessment policy statement [CAPS]. The budget cuts in education are [also] going to put pressure on parents to come forward with the required financial support and the unemployment will make this impossible,” Maluleke said.

South African Teachers Union spokesperson Stephan van den Berg said: “2021 will undoubtedly have a rocky start, but with educators passionate about teaching, and learners hungry for knowledge, all that will be needed to make a success and regain the ground lost of 2020 is political will and stakeholder co-operation.”

Professional Educators Union general secretary Ben Machibi said there are still challenges of infrastructure and a shortage of teachers. .

“These have not improved, meaning that we will have the same challenges as we acclimatise ourselves to co-exist with the pandemic,” he said.

Speaking on behalf of Universities South Africa, Prof Ahmed Bawa said a number of challenges plague institutional and sectoral planning for the 2021 academic year. “Keeping campuses safe for students and staff is always a challenge and ensuring that we prevent large outbreaks requires significant change in behaviour. Just as prominent and of deep concern is the financial impact of the pandemic on the universities," Bawa said.

“The universities face both quantifiable and unquantifiable challenges to their financial sustainability with huge short-term and long-term implications. As yet, the universities are not sure what level of state funding will be available to them via the subsidy system.”

Bawa said that while much had been achieved in terms of setting up systems for online learning, the higher education sector was still a long way from having a properly constructed national digital teaching and learning platform that will facilitate emergency remote teaching if that becomes necessary.

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