Learners and schools in a catch 22
Schools remain locked down
11 July 2020 | Education
Walvis Bay, Swakopmund and Arandis are the only three towns in the country where face-to-face classes are still halted due to the increase in Covid-19 cases.
Walvis Bay is currently the epicentre of the pandemic with more than 500 positive cases having been recorded there.
On 7 July schools in the Erongo region, excluding those in Walvis Bay, Swakopmund and Arandis, opened their doors for their pre-primary to grade 3 learners.
Omaruru education circuit inspector Engelhardt Uirab said that schools in Omaruru, Usakos, Karibib as well as surrounding areas are fully prepared to welcome their learners back to school.
“When the schools opened on Tuesday, only about 50% of the learners returned. Days later, the number steadily increased. I visited four schools in Omaruru and Karibib, and it was great to see how disciplined the learners were and how excited they are to be back in class.”
According to Uirab, schools are handling the ‘new normal’ fairly well.
“I tested the learners’ knowledge of Covid-19 at a pre-primary class at Ebenhaeser Primary School in Karibib. It was great to see that they knew what the virus is, what the symptoms are and what measures to take.”
Uirab said that the learners are screened each morning before they enter the school.
“Thus far we have had no incidences of learners with temperatures of higher than 37°C. However, we still face numerous challenges. At this moment we cannot use the tippy-taps at school for the learners to wash their hands since it is very cold in the morning. Teachers are now making use of sanitizers to ensure the little ones keep their hands clean.”
The learners are also seated in a certain way to ensure that they keep a social distance from each other.
“They are seated in a zig-zag pattern, since all our primary schools in the circuit have double desks. There is truly a peaceful and joyous atmosphere at the schools I visited. I would like to urge the parents in the Omaruru circuit who haven’t sent their children to school yet, to come and visit the school themselves. All operations at school are supervised and measures have been put in place to protect both the learner and teacher.”
On 20 July, the grade 7s and 9s will return to school.
He encouraged the learners in Walvis Bay, Swakopmund and Arandis to keep the faith.
“As learners you need to take any and all opportunities that come your way. The fact that everything came to a complete standstill doesn’t mean you have to stop the learning process. I know it is an extremely difficult time but we need to keep our heads above water.”
Another thing to be looked at is psychological support for learners in the three lockdown towns, Uirab said.
“We need to encourage these learners as much as we can. Perhaps social workers can host 20 minute talks on radio stations, or principals can send out messages on their Facebook pages or WhatsApp groups in the various languages. We find ourselves in an extremely difficult time and we need to support each other as much as we can.”
President Hage Geingob gave parents the option to send their children to school or to keep them at home. However, teachers are expected to show up.
The regional education director, Enfriede Stephanus, said that efforts are being made to persuade the ministry to allow the grade 11s and 12s back at school in Walvis Bay, Swakopmund and Arandis.
“We are awaiting feedback from the ministry about the grade 11 and 12 learners being allowed back at school. Perhaps by next week we should have an answer. As for the other grades, we will assess the situation and take it from there.”
The Namibia Senior Secondary Certificate (NSSC) examination is scheduled to start on 21 October and will last until 6 November. This will also be the last examination for the grade 12s writing the NSSC examination, since the curriculum has changed.
“We had a meeting with private and state schools in the region and discussed at length the advantages and disadvantages of letting our learners come back to school with the rising number of Covid-19 cases. However, national exams are right around the corner, and our learners are losing valuable time.”
She said that school counsellors are actively involved in encouraging learners to remain focused.
“One of the major challenges, especially for private schools, is that many parents are taking their children out of school. This leaves many schools in a difficult situation since the salaries of teachers still need to be paid.”
Stephanus added that another major challenge is that not all learners have access to e-learning, saying that with practical subjects this platform is not possible at all.
Nika Steenkamp, a grade 9 learner from Walvis Bay, says that she misses her school and her friends.
“I miss going to school. I want to play hockey. Children are getting lazy just sitting at home. I don't even want to get up to do my school work anymore because I watch TV. Just imagine how restless children are in school after a months’ vacation?”
Steenkamp foresees difficulties for teachers having to exercise control in a classroom environment over children who have been sitting at home for three months. She is also worried about her future.
“What will become of our dreams?”
Ilse Palomba, the principal of The Dolphin Schools in Walvis Bay, says “when you hear a child saying it is becoming too much and they need school and their friends, you know enough is enough”.
She said that distance learning demands a complete change of how to go about teaching and learning.
“We had to remain calm and not panic about the challenges presented to us as teachers and a school. Our students and parents needed to be continuously reassured that we would not let our students down. It demanded from our teachers to be available all the time (even in the evenings and over weekends) to answer questions and quell fears.”
According to Palomba interaction and assessment became much more challenging.
“We miss our children terribly and we miss the physical support of our extended Dolphin Schools family. It is very difficult to witness and experience the hardship most of our parents face as a result of the pandemic and lockdown in our town and the region. It is very difficult to balance our need for a safe and secure environment for our students, and our purpose as a school.”