Though the education ministry insisted schools re-open on 20 April, they could not give the nation assurance on how teaching and learning will take place without a classroom.
Executive director in the ministry of education Sanet Steenkamp yesterday explained the announcement to have public and private schools to re-open on 20 April, but without learners or teachers physically present at schools, as this will be done on a long-distance basis.
“When we say schools re-open on 20 April, it means no learners will be physical at school. No parent or taxi will drop kids at school. Come 20 April, we want to restore a restructured learning. It will give us a sense of learning,” Steenkamp said.
Government last month announced all private and public schools will be closed from 16 March 16 and re-open on 14 April due to the outbreak of Covid-19.
The schools’ closure follows the announcement by President Hage Geingob that all public gatherings should be suspended for 30 days to break the chain of transmission of the virus.
Steenkamp said teachers and learners were actually on holiday and no holiday will be extended, adding learning and teaching must continue amid the virus outbreak, of which Namibia has 16 confirmed cases.
However, when pressed on how this would be possible without physical contact, Steenkamp was hesitant to fully explain the modalities.
She said the ministry is still engaging all stakeholders on the best way to ensure a conducive learning and teaching environment without promising the health of teachers and learners.
According to her, the ministry and stakeholders want to unpack a notion of working from home to teach learners online and offline.
Although she suggested social media platforms such as WhatsApp groups as means of learning, she said the ministry is aware that not all parents can afford gadgets and the internet for online learning.
Namibia has more than 80 000 learners in about 1 897 schools and more than 30 000 teachers.
The education ministry has appealed to friends of education to come on board and assist in rolling out e-learning, saying there is no perfect solution during Covid-19.
Asked on whether learners will sit for exams, she said: “several engagements are ongoing, where people will work out preparedness and plans. We can’t assure the certainty that we will be able to write exams.”
She, however, assured that the last thing government wants to do is cancel the school calendar this year and make learners repeat next year.
Patience Masua, the acting secretary general of Namibia National Students Organisation (Nanso) viewed that whatever government decides regarding learning from home should not disadvantage any learner; hence, she called for equitable learning.
“On higher education learning, we reject any solution that is not equitable for all students. There is a reason why most students are fulltime students. So, if we are to migrate to online learning, we need to ensure there is the accessibility of these online platforms for all students. If there is no equal access to online platforms, then online education should be halted until universities ensure they have access to these platforms,” Masua stated.
Secretary general of the Teachers Union of Namibia (TUN) Mahongora Kavihuha welcomed the directive of the education ministry, saying whether or not schools reopen is secondary and the health of teachers and learners should be a priority. “If we are not getting an A+ on the readiness, precautions and measures, then we are not addressing the issue head-on,” he cautioned.
He said Namibia is adhering to the strict regulations of the World Health Organisation (WHO), adding this is the right measure to take and not allow physical contact between learners and teachers.
He noted e-learning remains an uphill battle in Namibia, as the country is still struggling to improve the education system in terms of IT development.
“It is said that the education ministry to date hasn’t come up with a specific budget to roll out the possible alternative intervention if the academic year is compromised,” Kavihuha stated.