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Getting education sector back on track



Pitseng – When ’Matsebo Khotlolo, the principal of Pitseng Primary School in Leribe, heard that there had been an outbreak of Covid-19, a deadly, highly infectious disease, she did not know how to deal with it.

She had never dealt with a pandemic of this magnitude before and everything was new to her.

It was no surprise that she soon went into a state of panic.

Her biggest fear at that moment was how was she going to keep the over 1 108 pupils at her school safe and learning.

With Covid-19 cases on the rise, particularly in the Leribe district, the government responded by shutting down schools.

“When the school was closed, it was hard for us to teach the children because most of them did not have any smart or mobile phones,” Khotlolo says.

“We had very few children who had mobile phones and even those ones complained that they did not have enough data.”

With schools closed, and without access to mobile phones, the education process in Leribe came to a complete standstill.

This was unprecedented for the education sector. It was a situation that demanded a new, fresh approach to get the education system back on track.

And when schools were eventually re-opened a year later, there were still restrictions on social distancing that meant they could not accommodate every student in class.

Khotlolo says her school introduced the shift system that saw classes being split into two groups that would alternate to come to school in a week. Others would come on Monday, Wednesday and

Friday while the other group would only come in on Tuesday and Thursday.

“When we introduced the shifts we also trained the parents so that they could help the learners with their assignments,” she says.

“We maintained social distancing when they were sitting in classrooms.”

But even after introducing the shift system, Khotlolo always wondered how they were going to ensure that the students would catch up on lost learning time.

To deal with the challenge, the Ministry of Education came up with an “accelerated curriculum” to get the pupils back on track. It was a timely intervention that helped the school recover lost learning time.

Khotlolo says they also made use of self-learning materials that were designed by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

“They (learner packs) were very helpful,” she says.

She says bringing the pupils back to the right level of learning was a “hectic” process.

“We were supposed to teach the children from the previous level of learning to the next one. But we had very limited time to do so. It meant more work for the children which was very frustrating.”

Khotlolo says UNICEF also provided them with masks and hand-washing facilities which helped promote basic hygiene at the school.

“Instead of running to the wells in the village, the learners were now able to wash their hands as much as possible at school, which saved time,” she says.

“The wearing of masks made us feel comfortable because even if someone was infected, there was a (small) chance of infection when they had their masks on. That reduced our fear of the disease,” she says.

“UNICEF also trained the teachers in the Wash Club. The club is still active. We have ‘ministers’ who are responsible for various activities like food security, hygiene and environment. It is encouraging to see the children taking up leadership roles and doing some of these things on their own,” she says.

“It is now a culture that before they eat, they wash their hands. When they return from the toilets, they also wash their hands, unlike before when they wouldn’t do so.”

Khamara Mosiuoa who teaches Grade 5 at Pitseng Primary School says they had to adjust immediately to ensure safety at the school.

“It was not easy but we had to continue teaching. We had to protect ourselves by wearing masks and washing our hands regularly,” he says.

“We also got tippy-taps so that our pupils could wash their hands with running water for at least 20 seconds.”

Mosiuoa says the issue of shifts had a negative impact on the learning process.

“They would come to class today and the following day they would be home. That negatively affected them. We had a lot of absenteeism and it was very difficult to manage the pupils’ progress,” he says.

Ntene Relebohile teaches the Grade 7 class at Pitseng Primary School.

He says Covid-19 affected “us mentally, spiritually and educationally”.

“We did not know what this Covid-19 is and so we did not know how to behave (to keep ourselves safe),” he says.

The shifts meant that the “teaching process was at a low because when you teach a child today, that particular child would not be in class tomorrow”.

“That affected the learning process badly,” he says.

Others eventually dropped out of school completely, he says. Out of the 1 108 students at Pitseng, 214 dropped out during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the school principal.

Relebohile says the community learning centres which were introduced during the pandemic proved very helpful to get the learning process back on track.

“These learning centres had three pillars. They were the contact teacher, facilitator and the learners.

The project brought tangible innovations and accomplished a lot. Since teaching and learning were low, the learning centres were extremely instrumental,” he says.

He says there was a lot of learning that went on at the learning centres which were set up in the villages when the schools were closed.

“These learning centres were introduced by UNICEF. I was appointed as a contact teacher there. We worked closely with the facilitators to ensure that learning continued,” he says.

“The learners managed to do their assignments at the learning centres and acquired the necessary skills in numeracy and literacy.”

He says the beauty about the programme was that “even those who were not in schools were still in a classroom situation”.

The only problem, he says, is that there was a lot of congestion at the learning centres where most would meet in a single rondavel.

The fact that all grades would meet in a single room also presented its own set of challenges, he says.

But overall, Relebohile says the centre did a lot of good under what were extremely difficult circumstances.

Staff Reporter

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