Anton Fisher

The Covid-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on lives and livelihoods, especially the poor and vulnerable. South Africa’s education system, which has been in crisis for many years, has also been negatively impacted, as a Grade 11 learner has revealed.

Recently I met a grade 11 learner who is enrolled at a high school in a township outside of Gauteng and he shared information with me that sounded all too familiar, and yet so disturbing.

He is a bright young man who is very disciplined and committed to passing his grade 12 senior certificate examinations next year.

However, he pointed out so many obstacles he would have to overcome if he wanted to get good results in grade 11 and grade 12. These obstacles have been compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic.

He has to walk to school and then back home, a journey that takes about 60 minutes to school and about 60 minutes to get home.

While Covid-19 is a tragic reality, the high school management decided that learners in grade 8 and grade 10 attend classes twice a week. Learners in grade 9 and 11 attend classes once a week. Grade 12’s attend classes every day.

The intention is good, but with the right Covid-19 protocols in place, surely all learners could attend school every day using the platoon system, or at least three days a week, if the risk of infection is that serious?

The learner has Sepedi as his first language, with English as a second additional language. He received a textbook for Sepedi but he received nothing for English and Life Orientation.

In these two subjects, learners are expected to make their own notes and study from these notes. Perhaps, not very useful for a learner with English as a second official language.

For this learner and other learners in grade 11 with the same subject choices, they have to share textbooks for Mathematics, Physics and Life Sciences on a rotational basis, which means he has access to a textbook for these three subjects for two days a month.

The learner told me that this problem with the lack of textbooks has been going on for years, resulting in learners only having access to textbooks that are old and outdated. In the three subjects (Maths, Physics and Life Sciences), there are no study guides available at all.

There is a staff room available, but it cannot accommodate all teachers and their files and papers, scripts etc. So what was supposed to be the science lab has been converted into staff offices for the teachers of Maths and of Physics.

As is the case with other township schools, there are no sports fields, which means learners cannot participate in school sports as a school team.

On certain days there is no water available at the school and the entire area where the school is located. At this particular school, as is the case with many other schools throughout the country, there are no flushing toilets, only pit latrines.

A point in favour of the teachers, is that they attend school daily to carry out their teaching duties. They are very strict and ensure that there is no bullying, drug abuse or other negative behaviour at the school.

But they seem powerless to ensure that basic matters are addressed, such as the lack of textbooks, the lack of a proper lab, the lack of sport facilities, proper toilets etc.

Government must urgently take action to address these education inequalities confronting learners in impoverished communities, inequalities which have been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Until such action is taken, our flailing education system which we have designed, will remain one of the major factors driving up the current levels of poverty, inequality and unemployment.

And this young man with so much potential will become yet another statistic.