Schools, principals disagree on whether to take a break in October or not

According to a presentation News24 has seen, three options are expected to be considered to mitigate the impact of another interrupted school year due to Covid-19 and related lockdowns.

Among the options is that Thursday, 23 September – the day before the Heritage Day public holiday – be made a special holiday. This long weekend can then be used as a truncated break to separate the third and fourth terms.

A second option is to start the holiday break on Monday, 20 September and end it on Sunday the 26 September, incorporating Heritage Day.

With both options, children return to school on 27 September to start the fourth term.

Under the third option, which the document notes “is unlikely to meet any resistance from the stakeholders of the DBE”, the school calendar stays as is, with the mini break taking place from 4 to 8 October. This alternative would see officials at a district level deciding on how to make up for lost time, which may include weekend classes.

News24 understands that the options are yet to be discussed.

Under the first two options, teachers and pupils will gain an extra day while still enjoying the benefit of a holiday.

So far, five school days have been lost. On the current calendar, schools are due to close on 1 October.

Last week, the SA Onderwysers Unie (SAOU) expressed its dismay at the idea of scrapping holidays.

The teachers’ union said: The absolute fixation to insist on the normal 200 school days per annum, despite the fact that the world is experiencing an extraordinary period as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, makes no sense whatsoever.

But the department has denied speculation that it is scrapping the holidays entirely.

Speaking to News24 on Thursday, department spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said the fact of the matter was that the sector had suffered devastating teaching and learning loses and that the department, as custodians of it, had a “responsibility to explore options that will minimise the impact of Covid-19 on schooling”.

Mhlanga added: [The department] has explored various options in the school calendar. The idea that the focus was on scrapping the holiday is misconstrued and narrow.

The spokesperson said the Council of Education Ministers would soon meet to deliberate, among others, the issue of making up for lost time. 

Schools had a late start to the year, following an unprecedented academic year in 2020 due to the pandemic. 

While the initial planned return for the first term was 25 and 27 January for teachers and pupils respectively, the second Covid-19 wave prevented this from happening. 

The reopening was delayed by two weeks and saw school management teams returning on 25 January, teachers on 1 February and pupils on 15 February. 

A move to an adjusted Level 4 lockdown as the country grappled with the third Covid-19 wave in June also saw schools closing a week earlier than planned

Public schools were initially scheduled to close on 9 July but were forced to shut from Wednesday, 30 June.  They reopened on 26 July.

From 2 August, primary school pupils returned to traditional and daily attendance timetabling. 

According to a National Income Dynamics Coronavirus Rapid Mobile (NIDS-CRAM) survey, between March 2020 and June 2021, most primary school pupils in South Africa had lost 70-100% learning as opposed to the 2019 cohort.

Giving his input on the debate, education expert Professor Felix Maringe told News24 that the department’s efforts to curb the losses were “noble”, adding that the issue was around its “timing”. 

He said: I think it’s a question of timing and a realisation that you can’t curb the losses by small bits and pieces here and there. There has to be some kind of a concerted and ongoing process of recovery. There is lost learning during the pandemic.

He said:”I think it’s a question of timing and a realisation that you can’t curb the losses by small bits and pieces here and there. There has to be some kind of a concerted and ongoing process of recovery. There is lost learning during the pandemic.”

Maringe added that catching up and making up for lost time needed more coordination and should not be about getting children to cram, but rather to strengthen their learning.

Image (Nka-Thuto Primary School in Orlando-Soweto).

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