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Primary school learning adversely affected by COVID-19

Staff Reporter

Learning and teaching in primary schools has suffered the most as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and it could take a few years to fix, Free State Education MEC Tate Makgoe says.

In an interview with The Free Stater, he said following the outbreak of the disease in the country a lot of attention has been put on secondary school education particularly the matric class as they raced to complete the syllabus and prepare for tertiary education.

This, he said, came at the expense of learners in primary school as they were made to stay home or study remotely in a bid to curb the spread of COVID-19.

“COVID-19 has created a lot of problems in our schooling system,” said Makgoe on the sidelines of a special session to moderate primary school-based assessments for Grades 3, 6 and 7 in the Motheo District held at Heidedal Primary School on Wednesday.

A total of 15 schools were sampled for the exercise in which school departmental heads made presentations.

“You will know that we are now forced to divide schools in half and the learners now rotate,” said Makgoe.

“Some schools are rotating on a weekly basis while others are rotating daily.

“This is particularly difficult for the young ones in primary school.

“If you teach them something this week and skip another one, the next time they come to school, they have forgotten everything.

“So, it’s a major problem. COVID-19 has indeed been a problem.”

Makgoe said those responsible for the curriculum have had to make some adjustments and trim it so that the learners are not disadvantaged.

“But next year . . . is going to be a very big problem because we have a whole term, the second term, where learners were not taught,” he said.

“The fourth term is mainly for exams and planning for next year.

“So, we have almost two terms where learners were not adequately taught.

“This is a problem that is going to haunt us for some years but we are prepared to do everything within our power to be able to resolve some of those challenges.”

Makgoe said the biggest challenge faced in schools is that teachers were not able to teach everything they needed to teach as timetables and the curriculum had to be re-done.

“The second one was the issue of attendance . . . you know, in some areas where children have to rotate per week, some of them forget that this is the week that we must be going to school. So, the issue of attendance is also a big problem,” pointed out.

Makgoe said to effectively deal with these challenges, his department will focus on empowering teachers in the coming year so they can do their work more effectively.

“I think the biggest issue that we want to focus on is teacher development,” he said.

“We really want to work with our teachers . . . and make sure they are confident to teach. We want to raise their morale.

“I think one of the biggest problems is that teachers at primary school, their morale is very, very low especially when it comes to things like promotions.

“Sometimes when promotions come, we favour those who are from high schools. I think that must change,” he said, adding, in the coming three years, his department will also focus on strengthening teaching and learning in primary schools.

Makgoe said he doesn’t want primary school teachers to undermine themselves but should ask probing questions when given a task so they can deliver to the best of their abilities.

The provincial director for primary schools, Eddie Dithebe, said as part of the moderating exercise school heads of departments presented the assessments done by learners in their respective schools and how they were marked.

“This is one way of verifying the quality of learning and teaching at schools,” said Dithebe.

“We check on the school based assessments set by teachers for their own learners and then we check the quality of that.

‘From there, we advise where we see the need support and ensure they share good practices among themselves.”

The presentations were divided into four groups focusing on Languages; Foundation Phase, covering Grade R to Grade 3; Mathematics, Science and Technology as well as the Humanities, which includes EMS, Life Orientation and Life Skills.

Grade 3 was picked for the assessments as it is the exit level for the foundation phase.

Grade 6 is the preparatory year to complete primary education in Grade 7.

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