In principle we support the broad intent of the DBE across the following initiatives: guidelines on social distancing; preconditions for resuming activity according to the Department of Health Regulations; Standard Operating Procedures for containment and management of COVID-19; an amended school calendar to include additional learning time and an extended academic year; a curriculum recovery framework; reviewing the implications for examinations; an urgent focus on  psychosocial support; strengthening  the links between schools and homes for  learners who have to receive education at home during the staggered school return  (and workers who work from home); and the intent to ensure that school is opened soon  given that many children do not have  access to online learning.

Following a review of the Draft DBE Plans, we suggest that the following be reconsidered and refined:

  • Clear and consistent communication on the timing of the opening of schools. While we understand that the DBE has to take multiple variables into account, many of which are dynamic, the criteria for such a phased opening can be communicated in an explicit manner, which in turn, will allow for enhanced understanding and also support from parents and the public.
  • We propose a distinction between screening (meaning use of an infra-red camera to check temperature and ask the learner's immediate health status of learner) and sample testing. We recommend both be given consideration. The screening would be useful to identify people who have symptoms who might then be tested for COVID-19 as decided by a medical person on site. This would help to ensure that learners starting would not bring infection in at the opening of school.
  • Empower principals to prepare for “stage 4 readiness” and support them so that they can officially declare themselves ready and be subject to a supportive on the ground assessment before declaring their school open.
  • ICT may be the new normal, but not for everyone. A national digital strategy needs to be developed in order to achieve the ‘new normal’. Many schools and colleges are simply not able to access digital means. We strongly encourage non-digital support options to be developed and actioned with equal prioritisation of effort and funding. Options could include a carefully managed process of distributing workbooks to learners who have not yet returned to school and the alignment of radio and free-to-air television broadcasts to support the use of in-hand paper-based materials.
  • Incubation camps for progressed and weaker learners may have a good intent, but may have many unintended consequences. As NASCEE we urge that this process be reviewed and an alternative strategy developed.

Furthermore, we propose the injection of funds into the sector by increasing the 18A percentage that donors can claim to encourage an enhanced level of donor support and to prevent donor fatigue. We believe that DBE should utilise appropriate NPOs with relevant expertise or resources as preferred service suppliers.

As a financial injection, we call on the government to release the National Lottery funding which has been approved but is yet to be formally launched and to partner with organisations such as the Oppenheimer Foundation via a national platform to assist the NGO sector.

NASCEE remains committed to supporting the DBE, NECT, Teacher Unions, SACE, education donors and the many other stakeholders that are committed to an equitable education system that is of high quality. We support a phased and safe approach of learners,  teachers, and officials  to schooling, but only if this is well planned, well communicated, and well understood. We suggest that “Building Education Back Better”, be the central theme within our collective response to the education sector’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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