It’s no secret that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on schools has been detrimental. Now, much of the hard work educators and learners have put in over the past year – including adapting to online teaching – has literally gone up in flames, writes MANCOSA academic Michelle Naudé.
The approximately 2000 schools that were looted during 2020’s hard lockdown were joined by a further 180 schools that were damaged in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng during the recent civil unrest. Libraries were wrecked; electronic equipment was stolen; water tanks, plumbing and electrical wiring were destroyed; and food allocated to nutrition programmes was filched.
The principal of a KZN school said the unrest is bound to have had a psychological impact on staff and students.
He said many learners lived near areas where there was looting and the need for people to defend their property must have impacted on those defending as well as those witnessing it.
The damage is estimated to cost the Department of Basic Education R300 million. Funds that could have been allocated to improving infrastructure and mobilising e-learning are now going towards repairs. As the pandemic has shown, digitalizing education is necessary and challenging. These challenges have been compounded by the financial losses following the unrest. Unfortunately, without the skills-set afforded by e-learning models, South African learners will be at an immediate disadvantage when entering the global market.
On a macro level, the number of malls, businesses and depots ruined by looters have left many without jobs. For the majority of families in KZN and Gauteng, this makes affording the basics like school fees and groceries even harder.
Learners whose parents cannot afford the many costs associated with school, such as stationery and transport, might be forced to join the 500 000 others who have dropped out over the last two years. Those fortunate enough to matriculate will enter a devastated economy, and for many learners, anxiety about the future will make it difficult to stay academically motivated.
In response to increasing reports of over-burdened educators, the DBE hosted an inaugural teacher wellness seminar in July. To keep learners in class, the DBE and UNICEF plan to continue their efforts to provide effective remedial programmes and psychological care to learners. Meanwhile, the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure is considering giving free basic data to low-income citizens, and intends to make high-speed broadband available to all by 2024. These improvements will provide a greater number of learners with access to digital learning and on-going educator support.
Individual institutions and companies can also play a role in alleviating the impact of the unrest and catalysing positive development in education. MANCOSA’s focus on giving students the edge by equipping them with digital literacy and global citizenship is one example of how educational institutions can contribute to building a better education system. By teaching pre-service educators to be socially aware and solutions-oriented, we ensure that future learners’ diverse needs will be met in the classroom.
Parents and guardians can help by supporting their children and motivating them to achieve despite the difficult circumstances. Non-profit organisations like Save the Children and Adopt-a-School Foundation continue to make an impact among local educators and learners by building schools, providing resources and training teachers.