Online learning a challenge

Teachers will only start with new work when schools reopen.

Children with computers and access to data have been continuing with their school work online, but those in poorer communities, such as Lavender Hill, face more of a battle.

Lavender Hill High School principal Fuad Viljoen says the school gave matrics workbooks and set up an e-portal for all grades before the lockdown, but parents are having to make hard choices – between data and food.

“The problem we have is data. We have switched the wi-fi at the school on so those who live near to the school can at least access the internet, but there have been some concerns from parents and pupils that they simply don’t have the money to buy data.

“At the moment a gig of data on Vodacom for example is R99 and that is enough money to buy meals for a family for a couple of days. Parents are obviously opting for food to feed their families instead of buying data.”

Hillwood Primary School has been getting work to pupils by using social media and by asking parents to collect it.

“This has, however, not been 100 percent successful because not all of them have data or smartphones,” said principal Gavin Alkana. “Food is more important than data, which is understandable – it’s crucial.

“Many of the parents are also not equipped to help the learners, so we’ve only given them revision work, things that they worked on during the first term.

“We will only start with new work when schools reopen. Once official decisions are made by the Department of Basic Education, we will then know the way forward, but the most important thing is the well-being of the staff and learners.”

Sharleen Arnolds, 26, a mother of two primary school pupils who works as a domestic worker and has been unable to earn a lliving during the lockdown, said she was worried about her children’s education but more worried about them going to bed hungry.

“To be honest we are not that worried about school work right now. Maybe it’s wrong, but we are more worried about feeding our children and how we are going to survive.

“Between trying not to starve and keeping our children safe from this virus there is no time to worry about school work. The children just have to catch up.

“Maybe schools can have longer hours or they can exclude the holidays, but somehow they have to catch up, but survival is the main priority now.”

Mr Viljoen said the safety of staff and pupils should be considered above all else when making the decision about when schools should reopen.

“There were proposals made that Grade 7s and 12s go back to school first. If that is the case, there have to be safety measures implemented. Right now, it is important for the Grade 12s to get back on track – other grades can catch up, but the matriculants can’t be placed to the next grade”.

The school has four matric classes of not more than 40 pupils in each.

Mr Viljoen said the classes could be divided and subjects taught on rotation to allow for physical distancing.

“But learners and staff have to wear masks, there has to be hand sanitiser, they have to be screened daily and other safety precautions have to be taken,” Mr Viljoen said. “If the department can assist in this regard it would help.”

Education MEC Debbie Schafer said schools should print weekly lessons and distribute them at feeding schemes in cases where lessons could not continue online. The department had sent a survey to schools last week to see which ones were unable to rely on digital distance learning.

“We need to have a non-digital, as well as a digital approach to curriculum delivery during this time, and even beyond. The world has already shifted into a digital landscape, and we need to encourage our schools and teachers to embrace it. A blended approach to learning has already begun. We just need to ensure that all our learners benefit.”

Ms Schafer said the department had asked schools before lockdown to ensure pupils could take home textbooks and workbooks so parents could help their children with schooling.

“A parent cannot replace a teacher. However, they do have a role to play to keep their children positively stimulated and engaged in educational activities.”

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga has proposed several measures to overhaul the academic calendar to make up for lost time. They include cutting the June and September holidays; deploying health workers to schools; moving November exams to December; adding another school day and extra hours to the school day; and introducing school camps or hostels.