Eco-desks part of quality education in the classroom

A teacher faces a packed classroom in a school in Mthatha. Trying conditions for pupils across the country are not only related to the pandemic, but also to the lack of proper equipment, such as school desks, and personal items, including school shoes and face masks, the writer says.
A teacher faces a packed classroom in a school in Mthatha. Trying conditions for pupils across the country are not only related to the pandemic, but also to the lack of proper equipment, such as school desks, and personal items, including school shoes and face masks, the writer says.
Image: SUNDAY TIMES

Covid-19 has been a harsh reality test for all South Africans as we battle an invisible virus that has affected all sectors of our society.

Our schools are no exception.

Millions of our young people have tried to keep up with their education while at home under the national lockdown. Millions have been fortunate enough to return to school under trying circumstances.

Those trying conditions are not only related to the pandemic, but also to the lack of proper equipment, such as school desks, and personal items, including school shoes and face masks. This year's celebration of Mandela Day came as communities across the world are affected by the spread of Covid-19, which has hit every economy, causing new social and economic challenges while threatening to reverse some of the gains made.

Tata Mandela, whose birthday we were celebrating, saw himself first and foremost as a servant of the people and not a Messiah. This year also coincides with the funeral of Tata and Mme Winnie Madikizela-Mandela's daughter Zindzi Mandela, an activist in her own right. May her soul rest in peace.

The 2020 Mandela Day message focus areas this year are quality education for all children, and food security for all people at all times.

A project that is close to my heart is our department's eco-furniture programme, which manufactures a wide range of items from invasive plants and trees, including eco-school desks, walking sticks, coffins, government office furniture, crafts and toys.

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As part of the Expanded Public Works Programme, members of Working for Water clear alien invasive plants that threaten our water security from millions of hectares of land annually to be used at the eco-furniture factories.

It is globally recognised as one of the most outstanding environmental conservation initiatives on the continent as well as its job creation efforts and the fight against poverty. Invasive alien species are plants, animals and microbes introduced into countries, that then out-compete indigenous species.

The eco-furniture programme has set up seven factories in the Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng, Mpumalanga, the Free State and Limpopo. School desks are the primary product produced.

These desks are delivered to rural schools, based on orders placed by the department of basic education. Since April 2014, more than 600,000 learners have been placed behind high-quality desks, most for the very first time.

Part of our commitment to Mandela Day saw us donate 250 eco-furniture school desks to the Ladybrand and Manyatseng primary schools in the Free State.

Besides school bags, school shoes and blankets, we also handed over disinfectant wipes, hand sanitiser, face masks and other safety equipment to ensure that learners who have returned to class are safe.

Our contribution to active citizenship included a visit to the Manyatseng Old Age Home in Ladybrand where we donated fleece blankets, hand sanitiser and hygiene packs along with water tanks and recycling bins for waste.

Both the school and the old-age home received gardening tools and seeds to plant vegetable gardens so they can produce food for themselves and their communities.

While the Covid-19 pandemic has affected our lives in a number of ways, it has become a tangible example of the importance of government working together with private sector and civil society to help those who are in distress.

Active citizenship is what we need to continue to inspire change in ourselves, in our community and our country.

*Sotyu is the deputy minister of environment, forestry & fisheries

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