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Schools safe to reopen, ministry insists

2020-09-01  Kuzeeko Tjitemisa

Schools safe to reopen, ministry insists

The executive director of the ministry of education Sanet Steenkamp said they have done thorough research before advising President Hage Geingob to consider reopening schools for face-to-face learning from 7 September, including in Windhoek, which is now considered the epicentre of the coronavirus. 
The education ministry last week came under heavy 
criticism from teachers’ unions for allegedly ill-advising Geingob following 
his announcement on Friday that grades 0 to 9 are to reopen for face-to-face instruction from 7 September countrywide.

 However, Steenkamp yesterday defended the government decision, saying thorough research and scientific evidence, as well as an online survey, launched by the ministry mid-August, guided the decision to reopen schools. 
“According to scientific findings, there is a lower rate risk of acquisition in children compared to adults; a very low rate of Covid-19-related deaths in children; a lower transmission risk of child to adult; a low risk of children contributing to an outbreak in schools, and a lower prevalence of comorbidities in children,” she said. 

“There are children [who] are diabetic; there are children [who] are overweight but in very view cases will you find children who diabetic with hypertension.” 

She reminded parents that the decision to send children back to school is voluntary. 
She added about 64% of stakeholders in the education sector voted in favour to reopen schools on 7 September for face-to-face classes regardless of the rising number of Covid-19 cases across the country. 

“We had more than 18 000 respondents from the online survey; 8 000 of them were from parents, although we are still cleansing the data. Overall, we have 64% who indicated that they wish learners will go back to school. Even learners themselves also indicated that they wanted to go back to school, although there were some who expressed fears – which is normal,” Steenkamp said. 

“If you do research, countries are doing what they think is best in their own settings – and what we did, we look[ed] at global lessons; we look[ed] at international benchmarking and our own local context.” 

Local teachers’ unions last week raised concerns over the reopening schools on 7 September for face-to-face classes due to rising Covid-19 countrywide. 

The Namibia National Teachers’ Union (Nantu) said it is not in support of government’s decision, saying education is not an essential service, emphasising the need to protect lives first. 

“The union is in support for the current grades 10 to 12 to continue with face-to-face learning, while other grades continue with the distance mode. Our action to delay the reopening will help the delay of infections at schools, which eventually bring closer the vaccine day if it has to be realised,” Nantu secretary general Loide Shaanika said. 

Teachers Union of Namibia secretary general Mahongora Kavihuha said it will be in the best interest of everyone if the schools are closed for the remainder of the year for grades such as 10, 8 and lower primary.
 He opined these grades should be transferred automatically with the necessary curriculum rationalisation to cover the critical competencies that should have been met for progressing to the next grade in 2021. 

“The challenge that will be posed by learners repeating their current grades is that it will create a backlog for the incoming pre-school and grade 1 learners – and either grade 10 and 8 will not have learners. We request grade 10s to be sent home and grade 9s be recalled to continue with their schooling,” he suggested. 


2020-09-01  Kuzeeko Tjitemisa

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