Despite efforts to accelerate delivery of key services such as water and temporary classrooms, the province was likely to be ill-prepared to protect learners and teachers, Sopitshi said. For example, over 1 500 schools still rely on pit latrines – and they won’t be replaced any time soon.
“While no one could have predicted the impact of Covid-19, its presence has highlighted existing inequalities in our schools,” Sophitshi said in an emailed response.
“EE’s Planning to Fail report shed light on the deplorable conditions of some schools and our Implementing Agents report highlighted important measures that can help improve infrastructure delivery in the province, including greater transparency and stricter consequences for underperforming implementing agents and contractors,” Sopitshi said. “Unfortunately, the department has been slow in implementing these suggestions.”
Sopitshi said existing gaps would grow and black working-class children would play catch-up in a rigged system.
“Many learners have struggled to access online learning during the lockdown period, many live in conditions that are not conducive to learning,” Sopitshi said.
“Thus, cramming academic content into a shorter period for learners living in these conditions is unfair and irresponsible.”
To restore confidence in the department, there needed to be greater effort to ensure that parents have access to sufficient information on progress so that they can make informed decisions about their children returning to school, Sopitshi said.
“Much had been promised – both the Minister and the MEC have sought to make the public believe that schools will be ready, but the postponement of the school reopening date has laid bare the reality that not all schools are equipped with the right tools to guarantee learner safety.”
Sopitshi believes that while learners, teachers and parents face a difficult time, it also presents an opportunity for proper evaluation and better implementation and to finally give all learners in the province a fair chance.
“Many pupils fall through the cracks and we often fixate on matric results as the benchmark of success, but doing this is a disservice to the many learners who drop out and end up unemployed in our communities,” Sophitshi said.
“Experts state that epidemics may reoccur. Now is the chance to make sure that the infrastructure in our schools can support healthy hygiene practices and is sufficient to avoid overcrowded classrooms. We need to see better inclusion of parents to support teaching and learning in the province.
“Lastly, what we have learnt is that a strong inter-departmental response is lacking. While the ECDoE is the custodian of all schools, the response of other departments in supporting learners has also shown to be lacking.
“Learners still need access to water, access to health services and safe transport. We need to look at the performance of the education department as part of a greater inefficiency in our government system. Our role as activists, concerned parents and learners are to ensure that the government levels the playing field in real terms and not just in their policies.”