Andrew Kathindi

After several failed attempts to restart the school year for all levels, the Ministry of Education Arts and Culture has begun consulting schools and unions on the way forward ahead of all grades reopening on 31 August 2020.

This comes as the Ministry has posed several questions to schools, unions, parents, community members and stakeholders in a survey as part of an attempt to get a better understanding of where everyone stands regarding the issue of school re-openings.

“We looked at what happens after August 31 in terms of school resumption for face-to-face learning. What is it that the parents and teachers want? Should we return to school? If we do, how do we go about it? What do we enforce? And if learners do not return to school, what should be in place instead?” said education executive director Sanet Steenkamp.

One of the questions posed to unions read: “If schools do not open for the remainder of the 2020 academic year, what can you advise the Ministry on the way forward for learners in 2021 academic year?”

Last month, the Windhoek Observer reported that the re-opening of grades 11 and 12 in the Erongo region which was initially scheduled to be 20 July was postponed by some days when unions complained that no consultation was done amidst rising cases of COVID-19 in the region.

“That is our approach and that is why we are widely consulting where possible. It’s asking very specific questions to learners, to teachers, and parents as well as unions,” said the ED.

She added, “We are looking at their preferences for learning. What is it that they prefer in their specific context, and what would work best for them? Is it work books, e-learning; is it WhatsApp, clips or SMSs messages from teachers?”

Steenkamp said the Ministry currently had no implementation budget for full e-learning and comes after the Deputy Director of Information Technology in the Education Ministry, Johan van Wyk, had previously put the cost down at N$500 million to roll out in terms of data, devices and connectivity to all the schools in the country.

“We currently have no implementation and the procurement process for the online-based learning pilot project. The contract process which was awarded to MTN and Telecom is still ongoing. Nothing has been finalized,” the ED said.

The consultation process, which was initiated by the Ministry ends on 28 August, with preliminary results used to craft a submission to cabinet on the 25th of August for further discussion before it is submitted to President Hage Geingob.

The Ministry’s re-opening plan which was announced in April has been a stop-start affair as students and teachers continued to contract COVID-19 at several schools across the country.

The current consultation program comes as education minister Anna Nghipondoka had previously stated that a decision on the suspension or continuation of face-to-face learning, when COVID-19 cases were spreading, would not be impacted by what the unions were saying, but would be a Ministry decision.