Jonathan Jansen got it wrong - 2020 school year isn’t lost

It is a wrong to tell to pupils they can simply progress to the next grade. This suggestion exposes the fact that Jonathan Jansen has no clue of what is contained in the department’s recovery plan, says the writer.
Planning 101 It is a wrong to tell to pupils they can simply progress to the next grade. This suggestion exposes the fact that Jonathan Jansen has no clue of what is contained in the department’s recovery plan, says the writer.
Image: Tobie on Unsplash

(In Prof Jonathan Jansen’s column of April 9 2020, he asserts that Covid-19 has exposed how huge the inequalities in SA education are.)

There is currently much information and policy advice relating to schooling and the Covid-19 pandemic being circulated on social media and other platforms.

There is, understandably, a lot of interest and anxiety regarding schooling in the country post lockdown, and the focus on what will happen to the Grade 12 pupils in particular, given the final National Senior Certificate Examinations.

Some advice to the department of basic education came from Stellenbosch University professor Jonathan Jansen who declared in his column that “the 2020 school year is over”.

This bold assertion is extremely unfortunate, to say the least.

After declaring the school year lost he makes a range of proposals that should be considered by the department.

It is clear from his article that Jansen has not been part of basic education and doesn’t seem to be aware of the strides that we have made in reducing the inequities that exist in our society and country.

It is also important to acknowledge that having had schooling disruptions before in different parts of the country and places such as Merafong having been even longer than all lockdowns across the globe so far, we were able to pick up the pieces and support the affected pupils.

We ensured they are not disadvantaged compared with the rest of the country and some actually came out among the best-performing pupils in Grade 12 in the country.

In 2016, in Vuwani, the disruptions were also protracted.

The lockdown there was in fact for more than three months. The pupils did not go to class but again we were able to implement a recovery plan that helped them get back on track.

Yes, it requires dedication, innovation, commitment and some real sacrifice, but it was done. Again, we received the full cooperation of all stakeholders, as we have in this instance.

It is a cop-out to suggest that the hard work of pupils and teachers should be simply ‘abandoned’ when creative ways can be found to incorporate the work into the overall performance of pupils.

We agree with Jansen that our reality is that for many pupils, the real benefit and impact for them is the classroom where our strength lies.

We are even prepared to share key aspects of the Comprehensive Framework of the Curriculum Recovery Plan that we have put together with provincial education departments, on which we are consulting with stakeholders.

Now let’s examine Jansen’s “proposals” one by one.

“One, scrap the academic school year; even a ‘trimmed down’ curriculum will soon be meaningless for the school system as a whole.”

No. It’s too early to scrap the school year. In fact, that thought had not even occurred to minister Angie Motshekga. It is actually laughable that this kind of suggestion would come from an academic who occupies a position such as his.

As indicated earlier, it is not the first time the basic education system has experienced such disruptions.

At the time of his writing or when the article was published the basic education system had lost about 12 days. Even with projections, a constructive message should not be one to call for the “scrapping of the school year”. 

“Two, pass every pupil in grades 1-11 for organisational reasons.”

Again, we disagree. It is a wrong message to be conveying to pupils that you can simply progress to the next grade. This suggestion exposes the fact that the prof has no clue of what is contained in the department’s recovery plan.

“Three, abandon all marks from continuous assessment for a simple reason – it was not continuous.”

It is common knowledge that the Covid-19 situation has caused disruptions in the school calendar, but you cannot abandon the work done and what still needs to be done. It is a cop-out to suggest that the hard work of pupils and teachers should be simply “abandoned” when creative ways can be found to incorporate the work into the overall performance of pupils. 

“Four, if Grade 12s do write the terminal exams, reach an agreement with provinces and their schools on what parts of the curriculum will be covered and a set new examination papers.”

Losing days in the Grade 12 calendar will undoubtedly impact on examination results.

However, insofar as days lost, this will pull everyone’s results down in a similar fashion; there would not be that much unfairness within the class of 2020.

The larger risk is perhaps a loss of comparability with the results of other years, something that could disadvantage the class of 2020 in, for instance, the university admissions process.

The school calendar is being revised and once published via the government gazette, it will show that indeed all possibilities were considered.

But at Umalusi, adjustment for the class of 2020 could deal with this. Perhaps the most concerning inequality is that pupils from quintiles 1 to 3 schools who perform relatively well, and who compete with quintiles 4 and 5 in the university admissions process, will be disadvantaged by the lower levels of access to and use of modern technologies allowing for teachers to remain in contact with pupils during the closure.

“Five, negotiate with universities to start three weeks earlier and have matric teachers and lecturers work together on a bridging curriculum for students in particular disciplines, for example, economics for those doing a BCom, or physics and chemistry for those doing a BSc.”

Post-school institutions and employers do not look at the NSC of just one cohort at a time. They consider the education of the candidate over a period. After all, Grade 12 is the final year of a three-year National Senior Certificate, which is why provisional admission to institutions of higher learning is based on Grade 11 results. With many days missed, and given that one is dealing with a national disaster, an argument for a special Umalusi adjustment would be very strong. But there is no need to trim down the curriculum or even tamper with the question papers.

“Six, do away with the June and September holidays of 2020 and start school earlier in 2021.”

The school calendar is being revised and once published via the government gazette, it will show that indeed all possibilities were considered. The amendments to the school calendar require a policy process in which all stakeholders are consulted to ensure that the exercise is inclusive and covers all bases.

“Seven, provide massive emotional and psychological support for teachers and pupils. There will be weariness and wariness that should not be underestimated. Our biggest mistake would be to treat children as cognitive machines that can simply be switched on again after the trauma of Covid-19.”

Correct. We agree on this point. It is not just pupils and teachers but every worker in the schooling system who will need support. A new normal will have to emerge on how we work in the basic education sector.

There is no doubt that the impact of the coronavirus on the basic education sector will be long lasting and that adjustments will need to be made on how schools are managed. All stakeholders in the basic education sector have been working together, tirelessly and around the clock, in planning for whatever eventuality, and that we are indeed ready for the reopening of schools.

It is unhelpful to fuel the anxiety, panic and confusion among pupils and parents in particular by suggesting that the school year is lost already. There is so much more work to be done in this year already.

Perhaps Jansen could assist by leading discussions within the higher education sector on how it should be gearing up to support the basic education sector and make a meaningful contribution to education as a whole. At this moment though, an article is simply not enough, especially from an academic.

Let us work together to defeat the coronavirus. Stay home and stay safe!

• Mhlanga is spokesperson for the department of basic education.

X