Prof Hubert Gijzen, Director of UNESCO’s Regional Office for Southern Africa
Dr. Taddy Blecher E³ (Entrepreneurship, Employability and Education) National Chairperson,
Mr. Shiloh Naiken
Mr. Gustav Praekelt
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is an honour and a privilege to rise and speak at this auspicious occasion, namely the launch of the E3’s WhatsApp TeacherConnect platform. This tool, TeacherConnect, has been created to empower and support teachers.
It provides a convenient way to communicate and includes learning and teaching content, development and support resources. It also affords users the ability to connect, be a helpdesk, provide learning, mentoring and tracking through real-time dashboards.
This innovative, TeacherConnect, platform integrates with HealthCheck – a National Department of Health self-screening initiative. The HealthCheck is a COVID-19Digital Risk Assessment and mapping tool. It allows for early detection, mapping, management and pre-screening of COVID-19cases. With school communities expected to do a quick and convenient daily symptom-check, HealthCheck will provide a much needed early-warning system to help keep as we gradually reopen public schools.
The unique nature of this Healthcheck WhatsApp Solution signals the possibility of a new basic education social compact post-COVID-19to address some of the binding constraints in our basic education.
Programme Director, in a nutshell, this TeacherConnect is the one-stop digital solution for teachers and learners in the times of the COVID-19pandemic. It would greatly assist in the phased-in-reopening of all public schools. This tool we are launching today aligns with the National Health Department’s protocol on screening, testing and linkage to care.
As I said earlier, this tool puts non-pharmaceutical measures firmly in the hands of our teachers, non-teaching staff, parents, and learners. All that is required is to log in on the platform to answer a few simple questions relating to COVID-19symptoms and risks. Teachers, and the whole school community are required to do the health check daily. Once, it is completed, actions are suggested based on the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) and National Department of Health guidelines, namely to self-isolate, test, or seek emergency care. Before entering the school premises, learners and staff must show that they have completed the daily HealthCheck, and are cleared to continue into school premises. For those who are classified as moderate or high risk, they will be entered into the Health Department’s tracking and tracing process.
Programme Director, this is part and parcel of our final assault against the COVID-19pandemic as we gradually open the economy to save livelihoods and public schooling. While doing so, we have learnt elsewhere that there are serious risks associated with lifting lockdown restrictions too soon, or in an unsystematic and disorderly manner. Yet, we remain steadfast in our belief that there is a need to balance saving lives versus livelihoods. We remain committed to our moral and constitutional obligations to save lives, first and foremost. As a country, we have managed the pandemic in a spectacular successful fashion. The worst is over. We have faced the storm, and now we are beyond the peak. We are at this stage because right from the beginning, we adopted a whole of government and society approach to the response with the involvement of all sectors. Yet, fears for the second wave abound.
It must be noted that as we learn to coexist with the virus, our best response remains non-pharmaceutical measures as there is still no cure either a vaccine. One of the enduring legacies of fighting the COVID-19pandemic would be cementing the virtue of transparency which, as we know now, is critical in building public trust. We have learned that inclusivity in the planning is as vital as the need for buy-in from different stakeholders. Today's launch that brings together like-minded groups inside and outside government bears testimony of the value of partnerships underpinned by transparency.
Despite the good news, we remain at risk. The virus isn’t on level two. For instance, within the SADC region, South Africa continues to have the highest number of COVID-19infections accounting for 90% of all cases and 91% of all deaths. However, the South African case facility rate of 2, 1% is lower than the global rate, whilst Egypt has a 5, 4% case fatality rate, higher than the global average of 3, 5%. We understood from our scientists that the virus doesn't travel, but people do. As a result, we implemented the hard national lockdown earlier, followed by the risk-adjusted strategy of easing restrictions, this approach contributed significantly to limiting the spread of the coronavirus and helped us buy time to build capacities for case management. Our biggest challenge is a mammoth task of mobilizing society for behavioural change to promote the adoption of non-pharmaceutical interventions as a new way to coexist with the virus. Perhaps the biggest challenge after the rebuilding of the economy is the continued surveillance to monitor the risk of resurgence and excess deaths amongst others. As a country, we have to strike a balance between responding to increasing COVID-19burden, while maintaining essential health services, especially in the face of growing health worker infections. For all of us, we need to ramp up programmes for psycho-social support: counselling for school communities, and health workers, and their families on the best approach to manage bereavement, grief, and associated anxiety. Simultaneously, we must pay attention to the poor and provide humanitarian relief by focusing on vulnerable communities and groups to lift them out of distress.
In conclusion, we appreciate the role played by different stakeholders. We are indebted to E³ (Entrepreneurship, Employability and Education) which is a national initiative of the Department of Basic Education in partnership with the Community and Individual Development Association, and the Maharishi Invincibility Institute.
The platform uses student-centred active learning (including projects and games) in the existing CAPS curriculum to assist teachers in preparing learners for the modern economy better. The goal of E³ is to inspire 100% of learners to complete school, and 100% of these learners to study further, get a job, or start their enterprises which is the direct mandate of our department. E³ also partners with Care for Education to provide training and educational resources to teachers in the Foundation Phase. In contrast, the New Leaders Foundation provides monitoring and evaluation for all partners' work.
I am delighted that Prof Hubert Gijzen, Director of UNESCO's Regional Office for Southern Africa, was able to join us virtually from Harare today to endorse the HealthCheck solution. This is especially important in light of the global education coalition, a flagship intervention driven by UNESCO, which is aimed at protecting the right to education, under unprecedented disruption and beyond. The endorsement by UNESCO confirms that South Africa is on the right track to protect and support the most powerful influence on education - our teachers.
I thank you.