Saturday School in 2021 will become the most chosen medium of study for many learners as the schools open. This follows after schools suffered a major blow on opening after the Department of Basic Education (DBE) postponed the opening of schools. The cumulative gaps created due to the unfinished curriculum in 2020 as well as delayed opening will see most of the learners battling to grasp simple concepts.

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The DBE in 2020 had to force schools to open after battling with unions who had wanted the academic year to be scrapped. The reduced academic year of 2020 forced DBE to trim the curriculum with the aim of finishing it in early 2021 and combining it with new 2021 curriculum. While the focus was mainly on teachers and learner safety, the future impacts on learners has not been much discussed.

If intervention programmes are not implemented immediately especially to poor and disadvantaged communities, the future of these learners is at the risk of amounting to nothingness. If learners are not assisted in ensuring that they close all the gaps created by the lockdowns, a further deterioration of the education system will be the result.

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To put it in some way, consider Didi who was in grade 4 last year. Didi went to school at most 10 days a month instead of the normal plus or minus 21 days. This is less than half of the time of contact time. This excludes disruption days that were common where at times schools had to close for two to three days due to a member of staff testing positive.

In essence teachers had to teach Didi all the work she was supposed to learn between March and November in 40 days. Remember Didi was home all the time and somehow unlearned most of the things she learnt in the first three months of the year as well as some of the previous year’s work. Study has shown that longer holidays was one of the causes of student failures. Students who go for prolonged holidays struggle when they open due to most of them having forgotten what they were taught.

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Didi was had more than three months of holiday with no access to any form of schooling whatsoever. Now Didi was supposed to return to school under normal circumstances in the third week of January. Again due to the outbreak of a new variant of Covid 19 in South Africa, opening of schools was postponed for a further four weeks from the normal opening.

The 2020 intervention strategy of the Department was to open schools early so as to cover the previous year’s work and at the same time introduce the new term’s work. This unfortunately did not happen as planned meaning the DBE will go back again to the drawing board and find means of assisting the learners. The current situation again will mean reduced days in school as we are still battling with Covid 19. If Didi is not given attention, her gaps in the curriculum will create more cumulative gaps as she proceeds with her higher grades leading to her failing her grade 12. But such must not be the case for Didi had she been given enough support.

The solution that Didi now needs is increased time on her studies and this must begin as soon as possible. The first priority will be to bring the mind back to school by reminding them in every lesson of the prior work. Increased contact time plus revisiting of previous curriculum will be stretching teachers who are already battling with fears and challenges of Covid 19. Hence the solution will not be found in the classroom. The solution will be found in extra school or Saturday schools as mostly referred to as.

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The extra classes offered are at this point are the only solution parents and teachers have in helping learners catch up. I mentioned parents because they are instrumental in two ways. Firstly in ensuring their kids attend these classes and secondly if possible in providing tuition money for these classes. The second point on tuition is very challenging considering the current financial woes but these are extraordinary times looking for extraordinary actions. It is time that families prioritize and sacrifice for the sake of their kids

The extra classes will assist and go a long way in covering most of the curriculum with less pressure and at a more steady pace. But what happens to Didi as her parents cannot afford to pay for her extra tuition . This is a difficult question to answer but one will hope that sooner or later NPOs and private companies will step in and invest in these disadvantaged schools to assist them with intervention strategies. The NPOs whose main focus is on education must step up and involve private companies to help. This will afford most of the children an opportunity and close the gaps children are already having.

At Ekurhuleni Tech, Saturday classes are already being offered now. The current grades being assisted is Grade 7-9 for mathematics and physical science. English and Afrikaans will also be added shortly. Students needs to complete the enrollment forms online and the fees and other information will be provided concerning the classes. It is time to rebuild again the education of the child. Let us all be a part.