The education ministry’s catch-up plan to make up for time lost during Covid-19 disruptions by permitting schools to extend hours has drawn flak from those affected, while an expert believes keeping pupils for longer lessons would not be enough to overcome the gaps in learning.
One of the biggest concerns in the education fraternity is learning loss due to the stop-start nature of the academic year since Covid-19 broke out early last year.
Learning loss (also called summer slide in the USA and Canada) is the loss of academic skills and knowledge over the course of summer vacations in countries that have lengthy breaks in the school year.
The initiative (to extend school hours) was welcomed by some principals.
Others believe the pandemic has already resulted in a “substantial” learning loss for learners, and making up for the time lost will cause a major toll on them, both academically
Stakeholders, however, warn that the initiative to mitigate learning loss is not effective.
“All these breaks have caused major havoc in the education fraternity because the transition
to e-learning was not as effective as we thought it would be because not all learners had the privilege to attend lessons virtually,” said a principal at a Windhoek public high school, who prefers to remain anonymous.
“When learners resumed face-to-face classes, our biggest challenge was to ensure we complete the syllabi within a specific time that the government has given us, while also ensuring that these learners
are excelling academically.”
Despite teachers’ efforts to ensure the completion of the syllabi, this principal believes teaching learners for 10 hours a day, or sometimes, even more, is of paramount concern.
“Many of them are still trying to adapt to the new system. They lack concentration, and it is showing in their schoolwork. I believe for learners to develop the necessary organisational skills to stay on top of their schoolwork while at the same time spending longer hours at school can put too much pressure on them,” he reasoned.
In an interview with New Era, Teachers Union of Namibia secretary general Mahongora Kavihuha railed against teachers’ workload.
“As a union, we are not requiring our members to be at schools from morning till afternoon. Whatever is happening at the schools, whether compensatory teaching to make up for the time lost, it should never be forced upon them. Only those who are willing, but they must also not compromise the health of the learners,” he said.
Kavihuha added that the curriculum has already been streamlined, therefore, there is no need to burden both teachers and learners.
However, the education ministry’s executive director Sanet Steenkamp said the emerging challenges caused by the pandemic require cooperation from all sectors of the education fraternity.
“We have already adjusted our calendar due to Covid to make it feasible and allow children to complete the rationalised curriculum within the timeframe of 195 days.
“Despite the fact that we have extended the school year up to 17 December, it is still not feasible for children because they have lost so much learning time,” she said.
Steenkamp observed that if the teachers and learners do not work on ensuring that the syllabi are covered and that children have sufficient breaks in-between, the country will sit with “a lost generation”.
“I cannot stop emphasising the matter of a lost generation; the lack of learning for our children and the lack of analytical skills, high order skills being practised, and the competencies to be met within a specific syllabus in a specific subject,” she said, adding that if that does not happen, pupils will sit with a continuous backlog and will have difficulties when they enrol at tertiary level.
Steenkamp thus urged parents, teachers and learners as key stakeholders of education to always strike a balance.
To effectively adjust to the new teaching normalcy, the ministry requested teachers to make sure they come up with strategies and activities which will allow pupils to master specific competencies.
“It is unprecedented times and people are in turmoil, and we need to look at this matter holistically,” she continued.
Meanwhile, educational psychology expert Marsha Losch feels teaching learners for many hours would not be enough to overcome the gaps in their learning caused by the Covid-19 disruptions.
“The government is doing the best it can to make up for the time lost, but timetabling longer teaching time can have modest improvements that may not justify the extra cost,” she said.
“We must also take into consideration the mental aspect of the learners; not that learning loss is not important, or that social and emotional initiatives alone will solve it. Many children lost a great deal of academic growth since the pandemic started. Therefore, schools need to know which pupils need extra support, including tutoring in and outside the classrooms. The consequences of getting our priorities wrong and putting the content before the learners are serious and long-term,” Losch added.
She advised educators not to fall into the trap of thinking if a child misses a few months of school, it is a crisis.
“If a learner was for example sick and missed two months of school but got his/her confidence back, it wouldn’t be a big issue to catch up when she/he gets back to school.
“But if there is fear instilled in her that she will not make it because she missed school, she will not make it in class. Let’s apply that scenario to Covid-19. We need to assess students’ abilities in a way that motivates them to grow,” she noted.