A Joint Webinar took place between the Department of Basic Education (DBE) and the Ministry of Education (MoE) of Botswana on 8 April 2021, to debate schooling in the time of COVID-19. The DBE has been meeting with sister countries on the continent to draw comparisons in relation to research questions that have the potential to provide lessons about what responses to the pandemic may be most effective, and to ensure optimal learning and teaching outcomes during these challenging times. The DBE has already met with Zimbabwe, Kenya, Angola, Namibia and Rwanda.
Dr Faith Kumalo, Chief Director of the Sector COVID-19 Response Lead, co-chaired the discussion session, along with the Permanent Secretary of the MoE, Ms Bridget John. A significant amount of learning time has been lost in 2020 and many critical research questions exist that need to inform the ongoing policy and programmatic responses to the pandemic. “Two important observations during this period were, firstly, that children should be in schools as they are safe learning environments, and secondly, the importance of psychosocial support to learners and teachers alike,” said Dr Kumalo.
Similar to South Africa’s National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP), Botswana’s School Feeding Scheme continued to provide two nutritious meals to learners during the COVID-19 pandemic. Botswana has approximately 536,462 learners, 29,073 teachers and a 1:18 learner/teacher ratio. Mr Simon M. Coles, Deputy Secretary Regional Operations, took the meeting through the Botswana National COVID Task Team’s 5-stage plan that included preparedness; prevention; response; recovery; and mitigation.
During the presentations made by senior managers and officials, it was clear that the two countries shared similar experiences, and instituted similar interventions such as the issuing of guidelines and providing online solutions; adjusted school calendars; differentiated timetable models; psychosocial support; ensuring care for learners with severe to profound learning disabilities; provision of hygiene equipment; and the upgrading of sanitation and infrastructure. In addition, they also shared similar challenges such as access to ICT devices and connectivity; absenteeism and dropout; the suspension of sporting activities and extra-mural activities; and the loss of teaching and learning time that will take several years to recover.
Various presentations by DBE managers gave a comprehensive overview of the SA education sector’s response to COVID-19. Presentations were shared on, amongst others, DBE’s Three-year Curriculum Recovery Plan; results from the NIDS-CRAM Survey (National Income Dynamics Study – Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey), focusing on the impact of COVID-19 on school closures, learner attendance and outcomes; implications for learner wellbeing, including learners with disabilities and gender equity; and interventions and virtual support provided in respect of teacher development. Both countries agreed that the session was indeed fertile ground for collaboration to be cultivated and nurturing and institutionalising a behavioural change in learners outside of school.