The HCET has filed four detailed monthly reports about its activities during the Covid-19 lockdown to donors and other key stakeholders. The latest report appears below.
Our biggest challenge thus far in this period has been to manage uncertainty and risk. Teachers and learners have prepared themselves to return to school only to have this reversed at the last minute. This uncertainty has added to the stress levels of children, teaching staff and parents. The inability to plan anything has only added to the already high levels of anxiety.
We understand that schools have been closed as part of necessary measures, but this also means that the children no longer have that sense of structure and stimulation that is provided by a school environment, and they have less opportunity to be with their friends and get that social support that is essential for good mental well-being. Our children returning to school are likely to be experiencing worry, anxiety and fear, and this includes the types of fears similar to those experienced by adults, such as a fear of the unknown, a fear of dying, a fear of their relatives dying, or a fear of what it means to receive medical treatment.
The Department of Education has stipulated that only 50% of the total school may return on a given day. This is not necessarily in the best interest of the child as he/she has already lost over 25% to 55% of teaching hours. In addition, rapid surveys by both Statistics South Africa and the HSRC that have revealed clear increases in rates of hunger among children. Increases in acute malnutrition significantly raise the risk of children dying from pneumonia, diarrhoea and HIV/AIDS.
Following ongoing research, Servaas Van der Berg and Nic Spaull of the University of Stellenbosch have stated: ‘It is our view that keeping children out of school is not in the best interests of the child. Consequently, all children should return to schools, crèches and ECD centres without any further delay. The profound costs borne by small children and families as a result of the on-going nationwide lockdown and school closures will be felt for at least the next 10 years. The hidden paradox of disasters is that even if those who suffer today are the elderly, those who will pay throughout their lives will be the youngest.’
At the Hantam Community Education Trust, we are seeking to mitigate the impact of Covid 19 on our children in the most creative and innovative way, while at the same time ensuring the safety of learners, teaching staff and parents.
Effective Parenting and ECD
Although our young farm children are not yet attending the ECD centre and our EPP trainers are not visiting families on the farms, we have put practical solutions in place to ensure that the stimulation and communication between mother and child continue. We have provided each parent with a home pack which includes magazines, big homemade puzzles and wordless story books to help the children with their colours, size, shapes and body parts. Tangram sets were handed out to each family for the children of all ages; the puzzles have different levels of difficulty. The more the children experiment with these shapes the more they develop their skills of problem solving, powers of keen observation, eye-hand co-ordination, concentration and reasoning, matching and pattern-making skill.
The implementation is communicated weekly by WhatsApp with photos and voice mail advice. Each EPP trainer has farms assigned to her, and if she needs to meet with a mother, it is organised at the clinic on a Wednesday. In this way we can monitor both the nutrition and development of babies and toddlers, especially during the first 1000 days. We look forward to real contact time, but at the moment patience is needed.
Umthombo Wolwazi Intermediate Farm School
We welcomed our Grade R and Grade 6 learners back on 6 July. We are dealing with much mental anxiety and have put measures in place to help the children cope and feel safe. We hope to phase in all our grades over the next three weeks. Once this integration has successfully been implemented, we plan to accommodate all the Foundation Phase learners in a creative and constructive way and not only half a class a day going forward. We have the space and staff to implement our plans. Online learning has continued with all learners staying at home, though not very successfully.
We are very grateful for emergency funding from our donors. This has enabled us to have all the necessary additional PPE equipment to keep our community safe. It is now time for all our children to return to school. We are ready despite the challenges of social distancing, even in a small school like ours, and agree with the findings of Nic Spaull and Van der Berg when they argue that trying to mitigate the negligible risk of severe Covid-19 with social distancing in overcrowded state schools is futile, and will just delay learning.
As they have also stated, ‘The department of basic education should acknowledge that it is not feasible for most South African schools to practise social distancing within the classroom.’ The teachers and support staff have worked tirelessly to ensure a safe environment.
Food parcels and transport
The emergency food parcel programme for the 10 Karoo nomad families ended on June 30. When the country moved to lockdown 3, the farmers employed the nomads again, and they are able to fend for themselves. The health workers are keeping an eye on the nomad children, and also looked for any signs of possible alcohol abuse in the period when alcohol sales were allowed. We will continue to assist 18 town school families with food parcels until all the children are back at school.
We are anticipating increasing emergency funding to assist parents with transport costs to school. The taxi owners can only carry 70% of their passengers, so private transport fees have increased substantially. We can only gauge this impact on the attendance once all the children are back in school by the end of July.
Our health clinic continues to monitor the health of the community, manage the immunisation and family planning programmes and monitor the eight people on ARVs. We are anticipating the weekly clinic numbers to increase as more learners start returning to school. We are happy to report that our lockdown interventions with the mothers has ensured that no child or adult has gone hungry or cold. Our health workers continue to inform and educate the community around Covid 19 so that all adopt the new normal to keep safe.
A total of 87 patients have been seen in this period, and three pregnant women are presently being monitored by our health workers. To date there are no positive Covid 19 cases. Five women received family planning. The eight patients on ARVs receive their medication monthly from the Hantam Clinic and are monitored by the health workers. Thirty one cases of flu and 16 cases of colds and coughs were treated. Immunizations were administered to two babies.
The bursary students at boarding schools were dependent on online teaching during lockdown, but have gradually been phased back into school. All 17 of our grade 10, 11, and 12 students are back at their respective boarding schools.
Youth Development Programme
The nine Culinary Diploma Students completed their practical culinary exam on 3 and 4 June. They all passed, and the results were as follows: two students 80%, five students 70, and two students 60%. They went on a much-needed break, returned on 22 June, and were in quarantine for two weeks. During their absence the trainers planned and tested the dishes, and made the necessary adjustments.
We launched a pilot ‘pop-up kitchen’ to test the market and were very excited to find a real gap that needed to be filled. To our surprise we could hardly keep up with the demand and sold R 8 000-worth of dishes in June. The pop-up shop is now fully functional, with the students running the business under the guidance of Chef Maryke.
We are very excited to up-skill our culinary students with additional entrepreneurial skills such as stock control, marketing, financial management, quality control and cost effective portion planning. We are exploring the possibility of establishing a bakery as well.
Six Basic Housekeeping Certificate students, under the supervision of trainer Theo Kleinhans, have now been allowed into a number of venues which accommodate essential workers for the practical part of their course. As they only started again in July, their exams have been postponed to September.
A vote of thanks
Thank you to all our donors for your continued support during this difficult time, and a special thank you to those who have sent us additional emergency funding.We are very grateful. Stay safe !