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COVID-19: High case numbers in schools where not all pupils are vaccinated are ‘ideal conditions’ for new variant – government scientists

CURRENT high numbers of coronavirus cases in schools where only some teenagers have been vaccinated “provide the ideal conditions” for a new variant to emerge, government scientists have warned.

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies says that “very high prevalence in schools combined with partly-vaccinated 12 to 16-year-olds in a highly mixing population” makes a vaccine-resistant mutation of the virus more likely.

In its latest paper, SAGE also claims England’s current R (reproduction) number – 1.1 to 1.3 – could go up as high as 1.9 to 2.3 if people make a “complete return to pre-pandemic behaviour”, according to their latest modelling.

https://flo.uri.sh/visualisation/2958848/embed?auto=1 They say that less frequent testing, home working and mask wearing, combined with more socialising indoors for Christmas could create the “perfect storm” for COVID-19 cases to rise even further this winter.

Politicians and health leaders are urging children to get tested before they return to school from half-term next week.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said: “As we start the countdown to Christmas, testing regularly and getting vaccinated is the best thing we can all do to protect education and make sure we can enjoy the best of the season – whether that’s the school nativity or the family gathering over the holidays.”

As previously, government advisers describe a potential vaccine-escaping variant as the UK’s “worst-case scenario”, which would “reverse the gains from vaccination over the last 10 months”.

But they say that if this does happen, face masks, widespread testing, social distancing and good ventilation in schools and workplaces are “likely” to prevent the variant spreading as quickly.

They also suggest that if a new variant arises overseas, tightening travel restrictions will only be effective at stopping it spreading to the UK if done quickly.

https://interactive.news.sky.com/2021/covid-19-coronavirus/cases-uk-infections-rate-map/index.html?auto=1 https://interactive.news.sky.com/2020/covid-19-coronavirus/uk-cases-avg/index.html They say pre-emptive border controls “could allow vital preparations”.

On Thursday, the government announced that all countries are being removed from the travel red list.

First Minister for Wales Mark Drakeford told a news briefing in Cardiff on Friday that the UK government’s decision was “regretful” and that SAGE is “almost certain” a new variant will emerge as a result.

Their latest report also supports the NHS’ calls for the government to introduce its Plan B – for preventing the health service becoming overwhelmed this winter.

Scientists say these measures “will reduce the spread of infection” but they are “unlikely to overcome a rapid increase [in cases]”.

Suggesting other ways to reduce current infection levels, SAGE says that notifying people who have come into contact with someone who has COVID up to five days before they test positive – instead of the current two – “would lead to a drop in infection”.

Asking people to isolate after a positive lateral flow test (LFT) instead of waiting for a confirmatory PCR test could also help, they add.

Sky News

 

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OPINION| Why students don’t attend lectures: what we found at a South African university

CHRISTINE SWANEPOEL, DEREK YU and ROCHELLE BEUKES

OVER the last couple of decades, factors influencing the success of first-year university students have been comprehensively studied and researched. These studies focused on a wide range of factors including personal characteristics, school performance specifically Grade 12 (Matric) entry points and school subject choices.

The research also considered study characteristics like lecture attendance, tutorial attendance and study hours.

But one research gap remains – the causes of low lecture attendance.

Our recently published study looked at this. The study was conducted in 2019 among first-year microeconomics students at the University of the Western Cape. We examined the impact of students’ personal and school characteristics, the university’s environment, student attendance and the causes of not attending classes. We used a survey to capture reasons why students weren’t attending classes continuously over three weeks.

We found that lecture attendance was particularly lower in the afternoon and on Fridays. The main reason students gave for not attending classes was that they were busy studying for tests or completing assignments. Some students relied on PowerPoint slides (instead of using prescribed textbooks) to study, and some spent a lot of time travelling to campus because they used two or even three transport modes to get there. All these factors could have negative implications on students’ academic performances.

The research

A total of 672 students took part in our study. The majority were aged between 19-20 years in 2019. Most of the students were Black (56%) and Coloured (39%) – people of both European and African ancestry.

More than 60% of the students completed high school in Western Cape schools. Just over 82% of them did at least one commerce subject in school. These were accounting (71%), business studies (50%) and economics (30%).

A very high share of 94.72% did math (instead of maths literacy) in Matric. The high proportion of students enrolled in math is encouraging as it is more difficult than maths literacy. Doing maths instead of maths literacy helps students cope better with the highly quantitative subjects at tertiary level. The university also provides additional foundation modules, such as quantitative literacy, for commerce students who did maths literacy.

A concerning finding was that the majority of students only attended between one and four lectures during the three-week period. In particular, lecture attendance was significantly lower in the last period of the day (15:30-16:30) and on Fridays.

But tutorial attendance was high – two-thirds attended all four tutorials. Tutorials are additional academic support to students where they go through various in-class exercises to help them prepare better for the module tests and exams. The high tutorial attendance was expected, because students were required to submit assessments during the tutorial period. Tutorial attendance was thus “compulsory” as it gave students some merit to attend.

A very high portion of the students (89%) successfully qualified to write the final exam through achieving at least 40 marks in the continuous assessment mark. For those who wrote the final exam, the pass rate of the module was 75%.

Comparing lecture attendance with academic performance, the graph shows that higher attendance was associated with higher mean final mark and pass rate. In particular, students who attended at least five out of eight lectures, scored a 90% and above pass rate.

Students who claimed they missed at least one lecture were asked to give a reason. Almost all the top reasons were academically related:

Busy studying for tests (37%).Lectures are not stimulating (28%).Need to complete assignments (22%).Online learning resources on the University of the Western Cape’s e-teaching (or iKamva) website are sufficient to cope with studies (21%).Tutorials are great and can replace lectures (18%).Unreliable mode of transport that was not on time (13%).

Students who reported they didn’t attend lectures because they thought tutorials could replace lectures scored significantly lower exam marks.

Conclusion and recommendations

First, we suggest the way students are taught be changed given some of them prefer examples to be done in tutorials rather than explanations or summaries of textbooks that come form lectures.

One option is to experiment moving away from the traditional lecture structure. As new digital technology is available and has now been more intensively adopted because of the COVID-19 pandemic, students will increasingly learn through flexible online learning. Teaching and learning will be a hybrid of face-to-face classes on campus and virtual learning.

Some students believe that online materials are replacements for the textbook. Yet when they study with just the online material they perform significantly worse. Given that some students come from poor households, a faculty or university-level textbook renting programme should be considered.

In January 2019, the National Student Financial Aid Scheme changed from paying specifically for textbooks and study materials to giving students a cash allowance. If this is to continue, a rent-a-textbook programme is better for students than large payments for the textbooks needed.

The findings support our call for more research on academic curiosity since the problem may not lie with content but student engagement with the material.

Given low attendance on Friday afternoons, there may be a need to adjust the timetable and even exclude certain slots. But given the limited slots available on the timetable, universities could consider spending specific days – for example Mondays to Wednesdays – for first-year teaching, so that students only need to spend transportation time and money for three days per week.

Finally, the fact that students said that they missed lectures because they were busy with assignments or test preparation implies that they’re unprepared for the shift from high school to university where the workload is heavier. This suggests that students don’t have the necessary time management skills and don’t realise how much work it’ll take to pass courses.

One way to deal with this is to introduce students to time management techniques during orientation. Universities can also encourage students to do online assessments instead of the traditional on-campus sit-down assessments which require more time.

* The Conversation

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Uganda’s Museveni says schools to reopen in January

UGANDAN President Yoweri Museveni has said schools, shut since March 2020 owing to the coronavirus pandemic, will reopen early next year regardless of currently low vaccination uptake.

“Be informed that the schools will be opened in January and the rest of the economy will be opened in the same month,” Museveni said on Thursday.

“Vaccination is key to the reopening of the economy,” he said, even though fewer than three million jabs have been doled out for a population of roughly 45 million.

Ugandans have shown reluctance to get jabbed so far despite Museveni stating that “right now 4.7 million vaccines” are available with a further 23 million doses expected by the end of the year.

“By the end of December 2021, 12 million people should have been vaccinated,” forecast Museveni, including vulnerable people and health and education workers.

Museveni, who has been in power since 1986, urged Ugandans to “walk to the health centres or be carried there …  go by motorcycle taxi, go by bicycle or go by vehicle and be immunised”.

“Even if you don’t come out for vaccination, we will open the schools and the economy,” he said.

“If anything goes wrong, the moral responsibility is yours.”

Museveni last month lifted the bulk of COVID-19-related restrictions in the country, which has seen just more than 3,000 deaths from the virus, but he left schools shuttered.

Some students have taken up manual jobs to support their families through the pandemic.

“Sometimes you get little money like … 10,000 shillings ($2.80),” 17-year-old Mathias Okwako, who works at a gold mine in eastern Uganda, said.

Other students worry they may never catch up on the school work they have missed.

“Staying at home, sometimes you cannot even have the moral to read books. Sometimes you forget what they taught you in school,” Annet Aita, 16, said.

With their careers on hold, many teachers have also switched to other jobs to help provide for their families.

Some have said they do not intend to return to the classroom amid doubts they would be able to make a living with many schools heavily in debt. Several institutions have converted to hotels or restaurants.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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Our children are facing a mental health crisis — we can and must address it today

SHAI FUXMAN

WHILE there is much to celebrate about the return of students and teachers to classrooms, the transition back is highlighting the extraordinary impact the pandemic has had — and continues to have — on students’ mental health.

Only a few months into what was meant to be the “back to normal” school year, many educators I’ve spoken with are saying this year is more challenging than the last two. Their students are anxious about making friends. Some need help grieving the loss of loved ones who passed. And some are having difficulties with basic behavioral skills, like sitting and staying at their desks. 

These social and emotional pressures are on top of 18 months of pandemic-strained learning or outright disruptions. If left unmet, the mental health needs caused by these pressures will mark this generation in yet another way and keep them from living up to their potential.

The realities of this transition back are among the many reasons why, when leading medical groups declare there is a youth mental health crisis, as they did last week, we must heed that call and take action now.

The good news is schools have access to hundreds of millions of dollars in new federal funding geared toward increasing mental health services in schools. Schools have already put some of these funds into action by hiring new mental health staff and purchasing out-of-the-box social and emotional programs.

The bad news is most of this funding will dry out at the start of the next school year when the federal fiscal year ends, and if not then, the following year. Schools will then face the difficult decision of choosing what mental health programs to keep and what to leave behind. How schools spend this mental health funding can make the difference between whether students are more likely to turn to substance misuse and drop out of school, or graduate and go on to succeed in college.

There is, however, a path forward to support students in this moment and beyond. Schools and educators must invest in long-term efforts that prioritize making mental health and social and emotional learning part of the fabric of public education. To do so, school districts should invest funds to develop data-driven, sustainable and cohesive systems of social-emotional and mental health supports that are integrated into academic instruction, classroom-based practices and school-wide policies.  

This approach is not just about addressing this one pressure point from the pandemic. This type of comprehensive effort factors in the reality that while the pandemic exacerbated the mental health needs among our nation’s students, it did not create them.

Even before social distancing and remote learning entered our lexicon and our communities, many of our students suffered from mental health challenges. Less than 10 years ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determined that one in five school-aged children were suffering from mental health challenges. Most of those students did not receive adequate mental health treatment, with great inequities in access to these services by race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status.

We now have an extraordinary opportunity — and responsibility — to use these new funds wisely. There are three ways schools can invest available funds to best serve students:

Invest in teachers’ mental health by creating workplace structures and protocols that encourage staff to focus on self-care and relational care. Doing so will not only benefit teachers’ health and productivity but will enable them to model healthy habits to their students.

Support the mental health of all students now rather than waiting until students are struggling. Well-designed programs can help students develop resiliency and emotional management skills, as well as build healthy relationships.

Use mental health screening tools to identify early students who are struggling. Early detection and treatment improve positive outcomes.

Implementing these strategies as part of a cohesive program will go a long way in addressing students’ mental health needs exacerbated by the pandemic, as well as building the skills they will need to live healthy, prosperous and successful lives.

Doing this work takes time, leadership, resources and therefore money. The current availability of funds to do this critical work in education provides us with an opportunity we may not get again — but very much need — in years to come.  

Shai Fuxman, EdD, is a senior researcher and behavioral health expert at Education Development Center. He leads initiatives promoting the positive development of youth and oversees the Social and Emotional Learning & Mental Health Academy.

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NSFAS funding increased to R42 billion in 2021: Nzimande

Department of Higher Education and Training Minister, Dr Blade Nzimande, says the demand for student funding has increased due to the impact of COVID-19.

He told journalists on Thursday that the funding of university and Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) college students through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) went up by 107% from R20 billion in 2018 to R42 billion in 2021.

“As the government, it is our duty to make sure that all those with potential are not prohibited by the lack of funds and we are proud of what this new board has delivered,” he said.

The Minister was addressing the media on the launch of the NSFAS funding applications for the 2022 academic year, which will open on 2 November 2021.

In the 2020 academic year, the Minister said the third year of the implementation of fully-subsidised funding for students, those benefitting from the DHET Bursary Grant for university and TVET college scholars amounted to 751 858 students. Of these, 489 912 were university students, while 261 404 attended TVET colleges.   

In addition, those funded by other government departments, such as the Department of Basic Education Funza Lushaka Bursary Scheme, the National Skills Fund and Sector Education and Training Authority increased by 45.4% from 346 966 in 2018 to 504 366 in 2020.

The department’s data shows that the demographic profile in the same year comprised of Africans at 92.9%, Coloured at 4.2%, Indians at 0.7%, Whites at 0.9% and others at 1.4%.

The number of females who received NSFAS bursaries in 2020 increased by 30.6% from 360 344 in 2018 to 470 696 female students funded in 2020. 

“This is similar to the overall representation of female undergraduate students in the public university sector.”

In addition, Nzimande said the 2020 academic year saw 1 421 university students with disabilities compared to 1 921 students in the previous year, a decrease of 26%.

“This is a concern to me and I will give this focused attention.”

According to the Minister, students with disabilities fall within the maximum threshold of up to R600 000 of combined gross family income per annum.

In addition, the bursary also provides students with assistive devices such as wheelchairs, hearing aids and adapted laptops, and human support.

The Minister also noted that the NSFAS funding increased from R5.9 billion in 2014/15 to about R35 billion in 2020/21.

“As you know, additional funding was reprioritised to support a shortfall in 2021/22, the current financial year, taking the total NSFAS budget to approximately R42 billion,” he explained.

“This is a significant contribution by government to supporting access to higher education and success of students from poor and working-class backgrounds.”

The Minister said he was proud of the scheme’s achievement as studies show that NSFAS recipients perform on average at a higher level compared to the whole cohort of undergraduate students.

“This shows that the financial support interventions of government do have a positive effect.”

Task team

The Minister announced the appointment of a Ministerial Task Team (MTT) to look at student funding policy issues for the future.

The team will develop policy proposals for a long-term student financial aid policy that will zoom into the comprehensive student financial aid needs of the post-school system.

The TTM will also look into alternative funding sources to widen funding for missing middle and postgraduate students.

“Although government has increased funding exponentially for students in TVET colleges and universities, we remain concerned about categories of students who struggle to afford higher education and the growing levels of student debt.”

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OPINION| Pass rates for school leavers in South Africa are failing students and universities

Dr ZAMOKUHLE MBANDLWA

SOUTH Africa’s current basic education system and the grading standard produce poor academic outcomes. Because of this, students exiting high school don’t qualify to study further at university level.

On top of this the bachelor, diploma and certificate passes at the matric level (the final year of high school) create false hopes for learners because they believe that they automatically qualify to study at any university.

I wrote a paper that looked at the mismatch between the weak education outcomes of South Africa’s basic education system – including the grading practice for students in their final year of school – and what’s required of students to transition to higher education.

I argue that the current basic education system and the grading standard produce poor quality learners who mostly do not qualify to study at a university level. In addition, the bachelor pass, diploma pass and certificate pass at matric level create false hope for learners.

My conclusion is that the current government reduced the pass mark to obtain the higher pass rate. The high school education in most countries have a 50% pass for all subjects. But in South Africa the government has successively dropped the final pass rate. For some subjects it is now as low as 30%. Last year learners were given an extra 5% allowance for up to three subjects.

My view is that the government has done this cynically to enable it to use the higher pass rates achieved as part of their campaigning to obtain more votes. This has been at the expense of younger people.

The history

The study applied desktop research methodology and the findings are based on existing literature, empirical and theoretical studies.

I present two main arguments in my paper. The first is that the basic education system produces pupils who don’t qualify to access tertiary education. And the second is that as a result of poor schooling, academically weak students are fed into the higher education sector.

During apartheid South Africa’s education system was racially separated. The Bantu Education Act 47 of 1953 allowed the apartheid government to construct racially separated educational facilities. The education system was designed to strengthen the apartheid laws of racial segregation. Black people had their schools of inferior quality while white people had good educational facilities and a good education system.

Universities were also designed to racially separate people. The apartheid government system was cruel and declared a crime against humanity by the United Nations.

One feature of the system stood out for me during my research: the way in which pass marks were managed. The system had higher, standard, and lower grades which gave learners options to choose from. Based on those options, the quality of a learner was produced.

Most matriculants with standard and lower grade symbols weren’t accepted in many universities but were eligible for employment opportunities. The system applied to black as well as white students.

The gaps

There’s a huge a gap between what the high school system produces and what the higher education system expects.

Firstly, learners in the final year of high school are allowed to pass with at least 50% in four subjects, a minimum of 40% for home language, at least 30% in the language of learning and teaching and at least 30% for one other subject.

This is a poor system because it produces students whose academic outcomes aren’t strong enough to allow them to properly transition into higher education..

Universities have foundation programmes that are designed to assist students who don’t meet entrance requirements. These programmes are also called bridging courses. If students succeed with their bridging courses they can proceed and enrol in the desired academic programme.

Another reason that the system is failing universities and students is that only one-third of students who exit high school qualify to gain entry into the higher education system. The low number of students in South Africa who do qualify to study further at university level is attributed to the weak quality of education they receive while in high school

Some studies has tried to address the issues of transition from high school to the university education. Another prominent factor that contributes to the existing problems is the inequalities in the schooling system.

A political game

Most people blame the poor quality of education on the apartheid government because the education system is still struggling to recover apartheid government’s education policies. The apartheid government might indeed still be having an impact on the current education system. But it can’t be primarily blamed for the failures of post-apartheid democratic government leaders. They have the power to change and strengthen the country’s basic education. But have failed to do so.

The pass rate is confusing and isn’t a clear reflection of high school learners’ academic capacities. South African parents need to pay attention. The 30% pass mark is a failure of the high school education system.

The Department of Basic Education is more concerned about the proportion of pupils that pass to make school-leavers and their parents happy. A lower pass rate gives them better numbers to crow about. It is doing this at the expense of the quality of education in the country.

(Dr. Zamokuhle Mbandlwa is Lecturer in Public Administration, Durban University of Technology)  

The Conversation

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Matric Exams: Ramaphosa Commends Class of 2021 For Persevering Through A Challenging Year Under Covid-19

PRESIDENT Cyril Ramaphosa has offered his best wishes to the Class of 2021 ahead of the commencement of the National Senior Certificate examinations on Wednesday.

Just over 900 000 candidates have enrolled to sit for the 2021 matric exams.

In a statement issued by the Presidency on Tuesday, Ramaphosa said the nation can be proud of the determination, focus and sacrifice with which learners braved the 2021 academic year in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on school life, home life, social interaction and society as a whole.

The president also paid tribute equally to parents and educators who were themselves affected by the COVID-19 pandemic but were resolute in helping learners cross the schooling finish line.

“We are immensely proud of the nearly 900 000 candidates who will be sitting for the National Senior Certificate examination, which is a signicant personal milestone as well as an important marker for the future of our nation,” said Ramaphosa.

“We are deeply indebted to families, educators and school governing bodies who made it possible for learners to make it to these examinations by introducing innovative means for learners to complete their curriculum.”

“The Grade 11s of 2020 persisted with their studies in a year in which COVID-19 arrived on our shores, with its devastating impact on our physical and psychological wellbeing.”

“This year we place our arms of support around the Class of 2021 who have persevered and endured in their effort to create a better future for themselves, their families and our economy.  

We wish you the best of success in your final revision and in your examinations, which will lay the foundations for your life as independent, adult members of our society.”

Ramaphosa called on learners to adhere to COVID-19 safety regulations throughout the examination period and in the celebrations beyond.

He also called on learners to present themselves for COVID-19 vaccination which is safe, quickly administered and free of charge.

“The President also urges learners who may experience anxiety at this time to reach out to parents, educators, counsellors or helplines to discuss their difficulties and find the necessary motivation to complete their school career successfully,” Presidency said in a statement.

Inside Education

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Teaching Awards| Dr Mariette Wheeler Is The Country’s Best Teacher

Dr Mariette Wheeler, a Life Sciences and Marine Sciences school teacher at the Protea Heights Academy, Brackenfell, Western Cape, was announced as the best teacher during National Teaching Awards (NTAs).

Wheeler was hailed for her work in transforming the learning experience of pupils through science-related activities, projt-based learning, debating, technology assisted learning and community projects while also ensuring teachers stay engaged during online classes.

A former marine biologist, she changed course in 2015 when she pursued a postgraduate certificate in education from the University of the Western Cape.

“I love nature. I love science and I wanted to bring that love into a classroom. I don’t believe that you can learn these subjects by simply opening a textbook,” she said.

Earlier, MEC Debbie Schäfer congratulated Western Cape winners of National Teaching Awards, including Wheeler.

“I congratulate each of them for this achievement, which is especially welcome after the tough year and a half in education. It is quite something for our province to have 9 of our 14 nominees place in the top three nationally,” said Schafer.

“All teachers, governing bodies and district officials were invited to submit nominations, based on the criteria contained in the Nomination and Information Guide. Our provincial awards ceremony was held on 3 September, and our provincial winners became our nominees for the national awards. They have all made us extremely proud, whether they won their category or not.”

“We will celebrate them, and the contribution of all the committed teachers of the Western Cape, for the entire month of October.”

She said teachers truly were the backbone of society.

“I urge all Western Cape residents to join us in our #ThankATeacher campaign, and recognise the profound impact they continue to have on our lives.”

Wheeler – regular freelancer for Antarctic Legacy of South Africa, was born and bred a proud Pretorian girl.

After completing her BSc, BSc honours and MSc in Zoology at the University of Port Elizabeth (currently Nelson Mandela University), she had the opportunity to explore beyond the horizon on Marion Island in 2004–2005 as a member of M61.

Her PhD was done through the University of Cape Town (with Prof Les Underhill and Dr Marienne de Villiers as supervisors) and University of Pretoria (with Prof Marthán Bester as supervisor).

“I investigated the effect of human disturbance on the seabirds and seals at Marion Island. My team mates of M61 called me the hybrid birder-sealer as I was fortunate to work on both. I have fond memories of working closely along with the other field workers,” she said.

* Own Correspondent

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Matric 2021: DBE Ready To Present Credible Final Exams After Tightening Screws To Prevent Leaks

WITH less than 24 hours left before the matric class of 2021 write their final exams, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga said the department was ready to present a credible final exams compared to last year.

Nearly 900,000 pupils in public schools have registered to write exams at 11,000 centres across the country.

Those in private schooling started last month with more than 13,000 candidates registered.

The department said it believes that it has come a long way in dealing with setbacks presented by the pandemic and is better prepared this year.

Officials have also warned that those involved in irregular conduct will be heavily penalised.

Last year, the exams were rocked by a cheating scandal when mathematics and physical science papers were leaked.

To make sure this does not happen again, the department has introduced stricter security measures which include that pupils’ cellphone details be recorded in electronic devices registered by schools.

The department has also published a WhatsApp number where the public could confidentially report any suspected irregularities.

The education sector is one department that has had to bear the brunt of the pandemic.

Over the past 18 months, schooling methods have had to be revisited numerous times.

In the Western Cape, 73,966 candidates will participate, writing at 486 exam centres across the province.

This includes both full time and part-time candidates.

A total of 1,887 invigilators have been employed.

Spokesperson to Western Cape MEC for education, Kerry Mauchline, said invigilators were not required to be vaccinated.

“We, nonetheless, encourage all eligible residents of the Western Cape to get vaccinated, to protect themselves and others from serious illness,” said Mauchline.

Mauchline said many lessons were learned from the 2020 NSC examinations that could be applied to the 2021exam period.

“The Department of Basic Education (DBE) has provided a detailed set of Covid-19 guidelines that must be followed at all exam venues, including physical distancing, sanitising hands and surfaces, wearing masks, and daily screening,” she said.

“It also outlines the procedures for learners with symptoms. The application of these protocols has been included in the training of the various exam officials.”

During this time, exam venues would not be used for other purposes, Mauchline said.

“Separate venues are being arranged for any learners who test positive for Covid-19 but are still well enough to write their exams and would like to do so.”

Last Friday, MEC Kwazi Mshengu visited Lamontville High School, south of Durban, where pupils signed a pledge not to participate in activities that will compromise the integrity of the matric exams.

“Apart from the work we have put in place to make sure all officials are properly trained to conduct credible examination process, I am sure you have seen our pupils signing a pledge committing themselves not to participate in activities that will compromise the integrity of the 2021 NSC exams,” said Mshengu.

“While pupils were signing the pledge at Lamontville High, similar activities were taking place, not only in KwaZulu-Natal but throughout the country.”

“We are persuaded that our officials and pupils are going to be equal to the task,” he said.

Invigilators were trained to focus on the prevention of malpractices, loss of answer scripts and accountability for question papers

The department compiled a comprehensive plan to manage “all kinds of risks” related to examinations.

“Our plan looks at measures to prevent a compromise of the printing job in case of load-shedding, looks at our working relationship with the joints operations committee, the delivery of examination material during days with inclement weather and a possible escalation of exam malpractices,” he said.

“As a department we are serious about conducting examinations that are without irregularities. You can report any suspected irregularities in the NSC examinations to the WhatsApp number 069-335-2818. We can assure you the information provided in this regard will be handled with confidentiality.”

Mshengu was pleased to report that more girls were writing the examinations than boys this year.

“This is important to us because we have always maintained that if we are to realise gender parity and win our struggle against patriarchy and unjust power relations, we need to expose our pupils to opportunities and equip them with skills that will empower them for the future.”

He said the 2021 academic year was difficult for his department and pupils.

“When we started this academic year later than normal, we already knew this year would be a year like no other, but we got our strength from the class of 2020, who being the first cohort to have an academic year marred by Covid-19, managed to weather the storms and succeed against all odds.

“The closure of schools, alternating of classes and other challenges that came as a result of Covid-19 meant that as a department we needed to do things differently and pull out all stops to ensure the class of 2021 had a fighting chance in life.

“As if the difficulties visited on us by Covid-19 were not enough, the civil unrest we experienced as a country did not help the situation. Despite all that, the KwaZulu-Natal department of education is ready for the 2021 NSC examinations.”

On Monday, DA in KZN called for an urgent oversight inspections of marking centres as in the province as matriculants began their exams.

The DA called on KZN Education portfolio committee Chairperson, Sifiso Sonjica, to ensure that oversight visits to matric examination centres are prioritised once Local Government Elections are concluded.

The party’s spokesperson on education Dr Imran Keeka said the DA believed that it is extremely important that the portfolio committee spends a few days assessing matric examination centres as part of its oversight duties.

“The functionality of centres is critical if results are to be verified by watchdog body Umalusi,” said Keeka.

“It is also critical in terms of ensuring that everything is running smoothly so that there are no unnecessary delays in the release of matric results. Furthermore, it must be assessed whether all resources are in place, in line with last weeks’ media briefing by KZN Education MEC, Kwazi Mshengu, and his Department.”

KZN’s matric class of 2021 has had more than its fair share of trials to endure.

From almost the beginning of their Grade 11 year they have had to adjust to a very different academic programme as a result of Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdowns.

* Inside Education

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ANALYSIS| Ray Of Hope As Students Prepare To Write The Second Matric Exams Under Covid-19 Guidelines

LUCAS LEDWABA|

They say the only certainty about life is that it goes on regardless of whatever calamities may befall a community or mankind in general.

This should be one of life’s lessons the Matric Class of 2020 may have learnt after sitting for the National Senior Certificate (NSC) following a prolonged break from school due to the outbreak of Covid-19 last year.

The class of 2020, despite the challenges brought about by the outbreak of the pandemic, registered a respectable 76.2 percent pass rate.

So far the pandemic has killed more than 4 million people worldwide.

While efforts have been made to halt its devastation, including the roll-out of vaccination including for youths between the ages of 12 and 17, the corona virus remains an ever present danger as the class of 2021 sits for their final exams starting on Wednesday 27 October.

The outbreak of the pandemic on such a global scale was the first of its kind since the outbreak of the Spanish flu in 1918 and caught the entire world, including the superpowers with their superior facilities, napping.

But what lessons have been learnt from the past year and half of death, mayhem and confusion, especially on the education and schooling front besides the fact that life must, should and will go on regardless of a pandemic or not?

The Department of Basic Education (DBE) announced that the 2021 National Senior Certificate (NSC) examination will officially commence on Wednesday.

The youngsters sitting for the exams are expected to “wash their” pens on 7 December 2021 as is the tradition throughout the years after writing exams.

The Department of Basic Education says a total of 897 786 candidates will sit for the examinations, comprising 735 677 full-time candidates and 162 109 part-time candidates.

According to the department, the candidates will be sitting for the examinations at 6 326 public examination centres, 526 independent centres and 326 designated centres.

So far, all stakeholders appear to be agreeing that the environment is conducive for the commencement of the matric exams.

There hasn’t been much of the eye poking and political point-scoring that have become synonymous with this period.

It appears Covid-19 has made all stakeholders, unions and political parties to avoid using matriculants and matric exams as some sort of bargaining tool that can be used to score political points.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) had earlier expressed some discomfort with the fact that some learners who are eligible to vote would not be able to do so if the exams took place on the same day as the local government election on November 1.

It is not clear how much of a constituency the DA boasts among high school learners. But they appeared prepared to take up this matter in their usual combative style.

However, this particular hoo-hah has been easily deflated.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has declared November 1 a public holiday.

Furthermore, the Department of Basic Education has brought forward exams that were scheduled for that particular day.

The DA has no bone to chew with anyone on this now.

The country’s main opposition party has also called for all to take precautions on covid-19 prevention going into the exams.

The SA Democratic Union (SADTU), which has a history of using such moments to test its power by threatening industrial action and all manner of labour action, has also added a positive voice.

The union noted the importance of the exams in the lives of the learners and commended the 2021 class for doing their best to prepare for these exams by attending extra-classes to compensate for the time lost due to disturbances caused by COVID 19 pandemic.

Critically, the union noted that many of the learners had to work harder to cover the Grade 11 work which they could not complete in 2020 due to the academic year disrupted by covid-19.

The union has also urged learners eligible for vaccination to take up the offer.

The reality of covid-19 however remains ever present and the Department has warned that candidates that demonstrate COVID-19 symptoms as well as candidates that test positive will be allowed to write their examination at special isolation venues that have been arranged.

It appears that lessons from last year, when there was a lot of fear, uncertainty and a level of stigmatisation, have been learnt.

The department has announced that to accommodate the negative effects of Covid19, measures such as the provision of supplementary material, vacation classes, after-school programmes, teacher content training and placement of volunteer teachers were implemented this year.

It further noted that the education sector at large placed strong emphasis on the areas of psycho-social support for learners and teachers, curriculum coverage monitoring, extra school based tuition such as morning or afternoon and weekend classes, ICT utilisation in the form of television, radio, online and web-based platforms, peer-led study groups and the provision of additional LTSM.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has advised that whether a child should go to school depends on their health condition, the current transmission of COVID-19 within their community, and the protective measures the school and community have in place to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

With some dissenting voices calling for resistance against Covid-19 vaccination, perhaps this should serve as a wakeup call that vaccination is not just an act that serves the interests of an individual, but those of society at large, including school children who are meant to sit for an exam.

After all, life, regardless of what happens, goes on.

* Inside Education