When government announced at the end of July that all schools and education institutions would open and operate at full capacity, teachers and parents hoped that it was the end of a severely disrupted school year.
The country had just endured a deadly third wave of Covid-19 infections and deaths, and health authorities were confident that the country had traversed the wave. However, some schools have recently started reporting positive cases, and are sending learners and teachers, who are exposed, to quarantine at home.
Many stakeholders now ask whether the education ministry anticipates a good performance during the 2021 academic year as pupils lost and continue to lose so much learning time. “We anticipate a fair to good performance from our learners, despite the difficult circumstances. We call on parents and guardians to take their responsibilities seriously in supporting and motivating their children to take their studies seriously for them to obtain better results,” said the education ministry’s executive director Sanet Steenkamp.
In mid-July, the ministry extended the winter holiday because of the rising Covid-19 positive cases countrywide. Schools reopened on 4 August. However, the situation on the school grounds does not dictate that learning and teaching should resume at full capacity with face-to-face lessons due to overcrowded classrooms. In cases were schools are overcrowded, Steenkamp directed a rotational cohort system to decongest classrooms and allow physical distancing.
Despite most schools having applied a platoon system, where a group attends classes in the morning and another has lessons during the afternoon, overcrowded classrooms remain the order of the day at many Namibian schools.
Overcrowded classes have also forced schools to resort to dividing learners into different slots to ease the burden on teachers.
Teachers Union of Namibia (TUN) secretary general Mahongora Kavihuha, who just returned from a tour to various schools, said disruptions of the academic year have not ended because schools or classes continue to be suspended.
His union’s members from various regions are not happy to be teaching in overcrowded classes. “What we are trying is to mitigate. The ministry is very silent and causing confusion. The pronouncement was that schools have to resume to full face-to-face learning and teaching, but there is no lifting of the crucial component of precautionary measures with social distancing. Everybody is now confused in the education sector. We advise those who are not happy to invoke Section 42 of the Labour Act,” he said.
That section stipulates that workers have the right to leave a dangerous place of work if they have reasonable cause to believe it is neither safe nor healthy to continue working there.
With the continuous school disruptions, he suggested universities should come up with some bridging courses to cater for those pupils who will qualify for tertiary education.
“We cannot talk about the performance of learners in an atmosphere where educators are completely devastated. Some feel the health of teachers should be compromised, while others feel education should be compromised. We have a confusing environment in schools. Some principals are misbehaving,” he charged.
Steenkamp agreed that Covid-19 restrictions, which resulted in the closures of schools and disrupted the school calendar, had put a strain on teaching and learning. However, as a ministry, they have to adopt new innovative operational methods to mitigate the challenges brought forth by the pandemic.