from Louis in Johannesburg, South Africa: the unfolding dynamic of schools

July 27. One continuum for national decision-making and leadership stretches from responsible, informed choice to thoughtless compliance with centralised edicts.

The one end embodies the freedom of choice and the other control, coercion and compliance. The Covid19 pandemic has uncovered where South Africa can currently be located along this continuum. The process of unlocking the economy and critical institutions such as schools within it reflects where we are on this spectrum. The policy formulation has many cross pressures in it including; vocal organised labour, the so-called Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) political party (advocating closure until after Covid19 passes), cautious business community, the ANC government Minister, a consensus seeking President and the DA opposition with its Cape basis of successful governance.

Government, specifically the High Court, decided that private, independent schools shall reopen on the 8th of July. This decision has now been shifted to 31st July 2020.The inequality in South Africa also segments education into a dual-logic system. Poorly run public (government) schooling and at the same time, world-class private schools funded by parents. One would imaging that a sensible government would try and emulate world-class education. Instead, the impulse of politicians seems to be to bring down good schools to the level of public government schooling. Educator Jonathan Jansen is recommending that because of the disruption by Covid19, the Minister should cancel this year of schooling including examinations and start again in 2021.

At the same time, the school daughter Rachel is part of, Cornwall Hill College (CHC), has been preparing for almost three years to switch to digital learning. Digital learning is also being called “homeschooling” and suits Grade 9 Rachel’s style of learning. No wonder she is reluctant to return and be exposed to viral infection. The risks of exposing pupils and teachers to viral infection compel school leadership to be cautious. There are now isolated infections of both teachers and pupils. All the necessary precautions have been taken such as the issue of linen masks, sanitisation stations, one hundred per cent daily monitoring of body temperature and deep cleaning and sterilisation of the entire school or part thereof in the event of viral infection. A visit by the Department of Health to inspect the level of compliance. “As a result of this, all grades in the Preparatory School and High School will be allowed to return following the decision by the High Court”. Regulation of safety has its purpose, however responsible local leaders at CHC have probably been making better decisions as they pre-emptively respond to local conditions.

One scenario for the unfolding dynamic could be that the school opens and when infection enters, it closes and deep cleans. Once it is safe, the pupils and teachers are allowed back based on the judgement of executive management. This cycle could continue until a stable situation evolves. This could be where E-learning emerges as the dominant form of tuition with some exceptions such as grades 7 and 12 where personal tuition could be chosen to ensure a successful outcome for important grade examination. The pupils at school could practice safe distancing because of the space left by pupils opting for E-learning. E-Learning has been massively accelerated by the Covid19 pandemic. Some estimates say that we have doe in two months what would normally take two years. This dynamic and the investment it takes can best be managed locally as it requires responsible, evidence-based judgement by local decision-makers.

In all revolutions, there is damage, in South Africa, the damage has been to the quality of thinking. A wise observation by an industry leader. So it seems with the ANC government decision-making. Voters have yet to discover the power of their votes. For now, they wait for the government to tell them what to do and hail any sign of leadership by President Ramaphosa, however transient as messianic.

On a more positive note, one of the unintended consequences of social distancing is that E-learning has received a major boost. With a minor drop in quality of face to face education, pupils can stay safely out of the way of the Covid19 demon. Judging by the overwhelmingly positive feedback from parents, the first flush of positive feedback would constitute a successful Beta-test for its E-Learning capability. This may encourage the entrepreneurial spirit amongst the school leadership. They could launch into the waiting market for digital learning. Quality E-Learning opens the reach for a school into the whole of Africa and beyond.

from Steph in London,UK: homelessness …

May 8. The government (this or the last one) had started to look at homelessness and said it would take till 2025 to get people off the streets. Post or mid-Covid19 there is a consensus that most if not all homeless people have somewhere to sleep every night … I wonder if it’s true and if it is how can we transfer this practice to being a normal state of affairs post post Covid? Hopefully the mindset has changed and the powers that be will be able to see their way to look positively at solutions instead of presenting the usual ‘Yes but” scenarios.

We’ve really opened the box on deprivation. Good schools  know their cohort of pupils and they work to raise their attainment – extra support, mentoring,  the best teachers encouraging and working with parents to try to  ‘level’ the playing field. Today those same schools are delivering free school meals to their vulnerable pupils and checking weekly on the pupils and their work personally. This, of course is easier in areas where schools catchment areas are small. I wonder how rural schools with much wider catchment areas are organising this vital service to the pupils.

The lack of computers  and tablets in homes automatically puts students at a huge disadvantage. If there is a computer, several children and parents may well be trying to work on the same machine in the same room at the same time.

I hear that some schools are doing class time together via one of the platforms – in order to make sure that safeguarding guidelines are followed some are only audio. Staff are contacting their pupils via email and that contact is vital if the lock down continues. It’s vital that somehow those pupils without access to these interactions should be part of the new normal schooling. Suddenly pupil poverty, which is largely hidden in schools,  has come to the fore and supplying the technology should be as important today as text books were to us.

So the weather is to take a turn for the worse this week. Perhaps I’ll get round to sorting out my paperwork – or creatively think of loads of distraction activities to avoid it. In the meantime the garden beckons.