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The news that schools may open even later than expected has aroused diverse reactions. Some parents and educators feel relieved as they are living in fear for their own and their children’s lives.
Others fear what could happen if children stay home alone and unsupervised while their parents have to work. The academic disruptions with knock-on effects on subsequent years also cause justified frustration.
The scheduled opening date of 27 January for schools already posed several challenges; 15 February may very well turn this into a second crisis year.
It is important to note that during the media conference, the Department of Basic Education said that it will attempt to persuade independent schools to follow the same protocols, but that that they cannot be forced to do so.
And in the meantime, the final regulations, which will be published in the Government Gazette, are eagerly awaited.
The sustained lockdown may necessitate some changes to education that should have been made a long time ago already. There is only one place where someone, who fell into a coma eighty years ago and woke up today, will be able to function meaningfully: In the schools.
The current school model is the result of the industrial revolution, which occurred nearly two hundred years ago. Its biggest priority was to counteract youth crime and child negligence. Additionally, they were trained to master the skills needed for the industrial economy at the time.
The fact that the economy and society at large changed significantly after the Second World War is only partially reflected in education.
Educational experts frequently refer to education as an environment that strongly opposes any form of change. This is often ascribed to the “nostalgic curriculum”; an attitude of: “This is the kind of education we received and we turned out just fine. Why should it change?”
It is strange, because there are very few other areas in life where such an attitude would be considered wise.
There are two main characteristics of education as we know it; all children are expected to learn at the same pace and it is seen as best practice to accommodate as many children in one school as possible.
The latter probably has to do with the prestige of sports in our schools. The bigger the school, the bigger the pool from which sports teams can be selected. In the rest of the economy, however, differentiation is sought and smaller groups of people are seen as more manageable.
This great congregation of children is particularly problematic in the context of a contagious disease. And that is why the Department of Basic Education was able to allow independent schools as well as smaller (mainly rural) schools to re-open last year even though other schools had to remain closed.
Effectively managed home-schools were also welcomed as allies in the fight against Covid-19.
A new model for schooling in which educators still fulfil the role of mentor, but where children are able to work independently and at a differentiated pace with the aid of information technology has long since been a possibility. Thus far, however, it has remained on the fringes of the educational scene.
Smaller schools, that offer this kind of education in collaboration with various service providers, can help to overcome the disruption of the lockdown. Anecdotal evidence shows that more and more parents prefer this. It may even result in sport activities being offered by autonomous institutions.
But for now, decisions for existing schools need to be made in the current dispensation. The FF Plus’s view is that schools that are able to open safely, should be allowed to do so.
The contrary should only apply when schools have proven that they are unable to prevent the spread of the virus. It will greatly reduce the burden of trying to make up for lost time later in the year.
Read the original article in Afrikaans by Dr. Wynand Boshoff on FF Plus
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