Education executive director Sanet Steenkamp has warned continuous disruptions of learning and teaching due to the Covid-19 pandemic could have adverse effects on learners’ futures.
Pupils are at risk of falling behind due to constant school closures aimed at containing the spread of Covid-19. To keep children learning, Namibia implemented remote education programmes, yet many of the country’s children – particularly those from poor households – do not have internet access, personal computers, television sets or even radio at home, amplifying the
effects of existing learning inequalities.
Students lacking access to the technologies needed for home-based learning have limited means to continue their education. As a result, many face the risk of never returning to school, undoing years of progress made. With schools having reopened on 4 August after a prolonged winter holiday, Steenkamp reminded the nation of the long-term consequences of continuous learning and teaching interruptions.
“It should be debated amongst us. We must understand the intricacies and complexities if children are
not exposed to continuous learning,” Steenkamp told New Era this week.
“If their learning process, rhythm and structure that schools provide for them is disrupted continuously, we are bound to sit with a lost generation. In order to fully attend to the whole being of a child, we must ensure that learning, teaching and interaction with the teacher is positive.” She encouraged teachers, at this stage, while the ministry is working on lasting strategies to provide psychosocial support to learners during Covid-19 where thousands lost their loved ones.
“It doesn’t cost money to provide a supporting and listening ear. It just takes a little bit of time and a bit of care and if we have that, we can win this,” she said.
Steenkamp also thanked parents for sending their children back to school, while encouraging those who are hesitant to approach their school management and explore other possibilities of learning and teaching.
She said the ministry has engaged the education regional directors focusing on four key areas. These include accountability reports on the N$800 million spent in the regions on school renovations, construction and upgrading infrastructure. The other component is psychosocial support and the issue of having an understanding and empathy in the leadership for teachers, principals and learners.
“We are equally aware when we returned in August, many have experienced personal losses of loved ones and even colleagues at school level. So, we encourage our teachers to be fully aware of their emotional and mental wellbeing. The same goes for our learners, they will be sad and have a lot of uncertainty when they return to the classroom,” she observed.
Steenkamp encouraged teachers to allow children to do more artwork and essays on issues that allow them to express what they feel. The Teachers Union of Namibia also undertook regional visits to assess the teaching and learning school environment after schools reopened. TUN secretary general Mahongora Kavihuha on psychosocial support said there is no clear plan of action on how to go about offering such support.
“This is completely lacking. It looks like schools are only experiencing that from Steenkamp when she makes comments in the newspapers.
“There is nothing happening on the ground per se. They want to refer the teachers to Life Skills teachers for counselling. How on earth can a Life Skill counsel another teacher?” he asked.
Further, he said, TUN picked
up a strong sense of hesitation
among teachers towards vaccination. “Many feel they can’t be forced to take the vaccine. Our position is that we cannot force them to go because of the monopoly of vaccines in the country. If there were more than five different vaccines available, then we can encourage them to go for vaccination.”
Kavihuha equally said teachers who have underlying medical conditions be allowed to work from home, without being on sick leave. “Steenkamp said they have requested all regional directors in the next two weeks to visit schools which were hard hit by Covid-19,” he said. On the third leg of preparedness and response plan, he said many schools already bought infection and preventive materials such as surgical masks, cleaning materials and fumigation machines. Kavihuha said there is confusion on the issue of social distancing in schools.
He cited the Omungwelume Senior Secondary School, which has completed a hostel but has since been turned into a community hostel. “This means social distancing is compromised. They turned a hostel of more than 200-300 people into a community hostel, which is completely uncalled for. The ministry should provide a hostel to take in those learners as part of Covid-19 intervention,” he suggested.