Let's admit 2020 academic year is gone and close schools

Continuing with schooling is increasingly becoming an extremely dangerous exercise, the writer says.
Continuing with schooling is increasingly becoming an extremely dangerous exercise, the writer says.
Image: THE TIMES

On Monday morning, I received an SMS from my younger brother's school. It said: "Dear parents. We have a positive Covid-19 case. Please come fetch your child as a matter of URGENCY. The school will be closed until further notice. FPHS".

As soon as I received that message, I immediately took the decision that I was going to relocate my younger brother from Soweto, his primary place of residence, where he lives with my family, to my house.

I decided that he was coming to live with me and immediately went to fetch him and bring him to my home.

My decision was based on the realisation that if my younger brother was infected with Covid-19, he was likely going to bring it home to a household where my grandmother in her 70s is staying with three children below the age of eight - my nephew and nieces. Like all people her age, my grandmother has some underlying medical conditions that include chronic ulcers and arthritis. If she got infected, there is no telling whether she will beat the virus.

I shared my frustrations with my friends on Facebook and was stunned by the hundreds of responses that I received from parents. Many had received messages similar to mine - some more than once. Every day, schools were being closed down across the country and parents were having to make difficult decisions about the futures of their children.

Many indicated that they had taken the decision to home school their children - an option that does not exist for everyone, but which opened a very important discussion: should the government close down schools indefinitely and accept that the 2020 academic year cannot be salvaged?

The reality of the situation is that learners have missed a lot of schooling. Some, like my younger brother, have been doing online learning since the lockdown begun, so they are not behind with their academic work. But millions of learners are. They are not from quintile 5 schools where resources are abundant.

They do not have the privilege of having private tutors or parents who can facilitate home schooling for them. And they do not live in homes that can provide a conducive learning environment.

The second reality is that continuing with schooling is increasingly becoming an extremely dangerous exercise.

There is an exponential increase in the number of Covid-19 positive cases. The death rate is also increasing. Thousands of people have died and more will die before we see the curve flattened in our country. And devastatingly, it has now emerged that Covid-19 may be airborne.

So, sending children to schools, even where decontamination and physical distancing is being adhered to, is not a sensible thing to do. We are risking the lives not only of children, but of families at home who will likely be infected by these children.

In light of all this, I think we need to consider the reality that we have lost the 2020 academic year. Our focus should thus be on how we should restructure our academic calendar moving forward.

We could align it with the northern hemisphere where the academic calendar begins in September.

This can be done for both basic and higher education, so that there is no great interruption with the throughput.

Alternatively, we should reconsider our entire learning system in terms of how we qualify learners. Maybe we should rethink the idea of exams, which evidence has demonstrated are not a good measure of qualification anyway.

We are at a point where ideas are needed because continuing with schooling in the manner that we are doing is sending children to their slaughter and the consequences will be devastating.

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