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Lockdown hard on learners

The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted the lives of many children and families in general.

According to the World Health Organisation’s research there was an increase in gender-based violence over lockdown in most countries and South Africa was no exception.

“The current relaxation of the liquor laws has already worsened the situation, and we are already seeing increases in on the number of alcohol- related injuries at medical facilities,” Sonia Lewaks, social worker at the Western Cape Education Department (WCED), said.

“Quarantine measures, such as school closures and restrictions on movement, have disrupted children’s routine and social support, and have also placed more stress on parents and caregivers.” She explained that children and families already rendered vulnerable through socio-economic exclusion, many who live in overcrowded conditions, are more at risk.

“As a department we have noticed the school closures have had a big impact on learners on a physical and emotional level,” Lewaks said. “Learners from poor backgrounds have been impacted the most. Some of the challenges learners experience include stress around their schoolwork, related to not having data to access online learning platforms.”

She says some homes are overcrowded and have limited space for learners to study. The pandemic has led to an increase in household poverty and some children don’t have access to nutritional meals, especially high school children.

“We have also experienced an increase in suicide attempts. Cases of physical and emotional abuse were also reported, some of them alcohol- and drug-related.”

An Abuse no More Policy has since been implemented for all learner abuse cases, where schools report through Form 22, which all educators are obliged to fill in.

“It enables all learners to get the necessary support through different stakeholder involvement,” said Lewaks.

The WCED and the Department of Basic Education (DBE) developed a Support Pathway as well as Covid-19 regulations with the phasing in of different grades.

“This involves the teacher doing learner check-ins to gauge their emotional temperature daily,” Lewaks said.

Each learner is expected to complete a well-being questionnaire, and teachers will complete a classroom survey to summarise the well-being of the learners. These forms must be submitted to the district office for further analysis.

Members of the Circuit Base Support team deliver services within the school environment, and make referrals to other departments as well as welfare organisations to ensure children are safe and supported.

“The WCED has embarked on strategies that limit the impact of school interruption by using distant education methods such as online learning through computers, television and radio,” Lewaks pointed out.

“Some schools even delivered schoolwork packs to learners at home and organised drive-throughs for parents to pick up schoolwork. Parents are constantly updated weekly on different media platforms, and school webpages around schoolwork, opening of schools and WCED safety measures.”

One flagship project school social workers of the West Coast initiated during lockdown was a Grade 12 Toiletries and Data Project. The support of colleagues, educators, Department of Health officials and other companies were called upon for their assistance.

To contribute to this project, please contact Lewaks on 022 719 1809 or 074 792 7463.

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