Despite fears that coronavirus infections have not dropped sufficiently and many people are still vaccine-hesitant, the education ministry’s executive director Sanet Steenkamp believes resuming face-to-face learning is of paramount importance. Pre-primary to grade 9 pupils, currently on a winter holiday, will resume contact learning on 4 August 2021. This comes after learning and teaching were significantly interrupted by the increasing Covid-19 cases in schools countrywide. Pre-primary to grade 9 learners were initially given a winter holiday until 26 July 2021. “We should keep in mind, especially pre-primary to grade 9 have lost substantial amounts of time in terms of teaching and learning since last year. The reopening of schools is of paramount importance. There is no sign Covid will go away from us very soon. We cannot keep learners unabated at home,” stressed Steenkamp. She said online learning is not a viable option at the moment. Therefore, she insisted on the need to have learners and teachers return to a structured rhythm where everyone begins to take responsibility for their own safety and health. This can be done if schools adhere to health and safety provisions such as soap, sanitisers and potable water. “It is the job of teachers and learners to keep themselves safe. I know there are huge physiological and mental health impacts on teachers and learners.
It is a sad situation we as a country have to deal with and we should work in comforting, being empathetic, listening to each other and having a kind-hearted ear,” Steenkamp urged. She furthermore advised teachers and staff to do the right thing and get vaccinated. President Hage Geingob is expected to brief the nation on the latest Covid-19 response measures this afternoon. Namibia National Students Organisation (Nanso) spokesperson Esther Shakela said the safety of learners remains a priority to them. “But we also understand there is content that needs to be covered for us to maintain the quality of education, especially given the increase in entry points for some institutions of higher learning, and considering the fact of the time already lost as a result of the pandemic since last year. Teachers Union of Namibia (TUN) secretary general Mahongora Kavihuha stated that the union is not comfortable with schools reopening, especially lower grades, as health protocols such as the provision of masks is still not yet sorted in schools. Nanso also suggested that as learners return to schools, an improved decongestion strategy should be adopted that prioritises grades that are required to sit for national examinations this year, and look into a rotational system for other grades such as grade 8 and below. Kavihuha argued that for education minister Anna Nghipondoka to say schools are safer than homes for teachers and learners is just a myth, as teachers are dying in large numbers. Nghipondoka is reported to have said that teachers were or are safer from Covid-19 at schools than in home settings. A principal in the Oshikoto region, who refused to be named, said more teachers succumbed to Covid-19. “Therefore, the mortality statistics should be produced urgently before we resume so as to craft the way forward. Our school reported to the regional education office about the Covid-19 situation and until date, no fumigation was ever done. I am a survivor of Covid-19, which left some signs in me. I am very worried about coming to gatherings again. We lost a teacher and a school board member, while one of our teachers is still in ICU,” the principal narrated. Steenkamp said the ministry does not keep statistics of Covid-19 teacher mortalities at head office as such deaths occur within the community, and it is holiday now. She maintained this data is recorded in the regions. Kavihuha accused Steenkamp of making “dodgy comments” to say they don’t have statistics at head office. He argued that the information is available because the principals would know when teachers die, and they report to head office. “They just don’t have an interest to keep the statistics. Maybe for them, the deaths of teachers is hallelujah,” Kavihuha charged. On vaccination, the unionist said it is an individual’s right to take as no one can force a person to take scientific vaccines. “It is people’s human right to take or not to take the vaccine, and which dose to be administered. So, as much as we want people to get vaccinated, we will have difficulty in taking a bold decision and encouraging them to take it because of the vaccine monopoly in Namibia. We are not here to force anyone to take it,” he continued.