The 2021 academic year begins today for South African schools, learners and teachers. It is an academic year that will prove more crucial than those that preceded it as COVID-19 continues to disrupt the ability of educators, as well as putting young South African lives at risk while travelling to school and sitting in classrooms during a pandemic.
Looking at the academic year ahead was Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, who held a press briefing over the weekend to unpack some of the key elements that the department will need to tackle over the next 12 months.
Health and safety are top of the agenda for Motshekga, but it truly remains to be seen how those schools without sufficient resources will be able to cope with the lockdown regulations and protocols currently in place.
“We emphasise the critical importance of vigilance and strict adherence to the health and safety protocols, in order to save lives,” says the minister.
To put health and safety in greater perspective, Motshekga confirms that 1 169 educators lost their lives as a result of COVID-19 last year, and a further 222 have done so in 2021 to date.
While the loss of life is important to take note of, there are also those learners who could an entire academic year due to not being placed yet. In normal years this is routinely the case, with many being left behind, but COVID-19 has put this into even sharper focus for 2021.
To that end, more than 20 000 learners are yet to be placed for the upcoming academic year. More precisely, the minister says that 8 982 learners for Grade 1 and 16 117 learners for Grade 8 are yet to find places.
Whether these learners can be placed in time, is unclear for now, but Motshekga says that it is a priority.
“The Council of Education Ministers (CEM) met yesterday [Saturday] and agreed the matter of school admission was identified as critical because the system cannot afford to see any learners being left behind,” she explained.
“CEM appeals to parents and guardians to cooperate with officials at the district level, to accelerate the placement process,” the minister added.
Hopefully the necessary parties will get this process completed in time that those learners yet to be placed can begin the academic year without having lost too much time in the classroom.
Of interest to us as well, will be the 2020 Matric exam results and how a heavily disrupted year has impacted the number of students who qualify to study at the tertiary level. Those results are expected to be released on 22nd February at the time of writing.