The face of education in 2021

The education ministry remains determined to ensure the education and future of learners remains its top priority.

19 January 2021 | Education

Mariselle Stofberg

The face of education as we know it has changed and evolved throughout the past year, and many remain uncertain about what education will look like in 2021.

During a meeting held by the education ministry alongside key role players of the education sector, the ministry's executive director, Sanet Steenkamp, confirmed all grades will return to school on 26 January.

This was part of the school readiness plan proposed by the ministry to ensure schools are ready and equipped to deal with Covid-19 and ensure both learners and staff are prepared and evaluated once classes resume.

With the rise of Covid-19 cases throughout the country, many feared the further postponement of the opening of schools.

"The postponement of the schools' reopening is only regarded as a last resort. Education and training must continue and accessible, equal and quality education for every Namibian child remains the ministry's highest priority in 2021," Steenkamp said during a virtual meeting with stakeholders.

"With the right precautions, measures and regulations, it is possible to continue with face-to-face teaching while still ensuring the safety and health of teachers and pupils," she said.

Steenkamp added that no evidence indicates that schools and teaching institutions are the primary drivers of the spread of Covid-19.

"Teachers and staff at schools are not in greater danger than any other profession of being exposed to Covid-19. Since the reopening of schools between August and September last year, no increase in infections has been reported that can be attributed to this,” she further said.


One of the key areas touched on during this meeting was the number of school days learners attended and missed during 2020.


Number of days attended in 2020

Number of days missed

Pre-primary to grade 3



Grade 4, 5 and 6



Grade 7 and 9



Grade 8



Grade 10



Grade 11 and 12



Learners ‘fall through cracks’

More than 30 000 learners did not return to school last year after face-to-face learning was resumed. "They fell through the cracks and we were unable to find them," the education minister Anna Nghipondoka said.

Meanwhile, according to her, the number of schoolgirls who fell pregnant last year has doubled. From March to September, 3 600 schoolgirls fell pregnant.

Steenkamp highlighted that a delay in reopening of schools could deepen the learning gap inherited from 2020.

“The ramifications of further delays could negatively impact the holistic development of learners with regards to learning, cognitive development, socialisation and their mental health.”

Continued support to schools

The ministry has committed to assisting schools in the regions to take the necessary precautions and measures to protect staff and learners. They also made N$56 million available to the regions for schools to procure disinfectants, soap and other precautions for returning pupils.

The ministry has also developed a plan to focus on the learning outcomes missed when schools were closed. They propose to focus on priority outcomes to support teachers to address key skills and competencies to prevent learners from falling behind and setting them up for success.

The ministry wants to undertake a baseline diagnostic evaluation of each learner when classes are resumed to determine their skill level and standard. A five-week recovery framework is also proposed to strengthen learners' literacy skills.

"The ministry also wants to provide support to pupils that is inclusive for all, so that no pupil will be left behind. It is specifically aimed at needy pupils and pupils with disabilities or special needs,” Steenkamp said.

She added that this requires better awareness and capacity-building of teachers to handle increased classroom diversity among learners.

A strong focus will be on formative assessment to support learners alongside the ministry’s support of the advocacy and continued investment in the use of other modes of learning such as online platforms, radio, television and printed materials.

“Cross-curricular integration and community and parental involvement become more important to support learners in attaining positive learning outcomes,” Steenkamp added.

WHO checklist

With the continued rise of Covid-19 throughout not only Namibia, but the world, the reopening of schools remains a contested and controversial topic.

To address this, the World Health Organisation (WHO), in coordination with different parties, released a checklist on the safe reopening of schools.

The checklist emphasised the importance of engaging key stakeholders which will ensure that these measures will be effective within the specific context of the community, but will also ensure ownership and sustainability.

“The checklist aims to enhance both compliance with and adherence to the existing Covid-19-related public health and social measures targeting children under the age of 18 years in educational settings,” the checklist reads.

The checklist includes 38 essential actions for the safe reopening of schools and preparation for potential Covid-19 resurgences.

As outlined in the framework for reopening schools and considerations in adjusting public health and social measures in the context of Covid-19, decisions to reopen schools following temporary closure should be based on assessments and analyses of context-specific risks and benefits.

The framework highlights that all plans and measures to reopen schools safely should aim to reduce inequalities and improve educational conditions and health outcomes for the most vulnerable and marginalised.

“To achieve this aim, school return campaigns should diversify communication and outreach specifically to target vulnerable children, including those with disabilities or special learning needs.”

Multi-level coordination

One key aspect highlighted in the report is the importance of a multi-level coordination approach to the opening of schools. The checklist emphasises that in order to protect both staff and learners, the approach should involve all parties in coordination, monitoring and evaluation within schools.


National level

National measures issued by the ministries of education and health to guide school level interventions.

Subnational level

Measures implemented by municipalities and local-level education directorates to

support school-level interventions.


Measures to be implemented by school administrations.

Actions on a national level

1. Issue regularly updated national guidance on school reopening (or necessity to close) together with contingency planning based on local transmission rates to support decision-making at national and local levels. The guidance should address:

• Continuous risk assessment including:

- the latest local epidemiological situation;

- general health and well-being of children, teachers and other school staff including the risk of exposure to infection in school settings;

- the capacity of educational institutions to adapt their systems to operate safely;

- equity and the impact of school closures on educational loss;

- consideration of the range of other public health measures implemented outside of schools.

• Infection-prevention measures including hygiene and daily practices at schools, environmental cleaning, contact minimization with unwell individuals, physical distancing based on age considerations, ventilation, the age-appropriate wearing of masks in schools when physical distancing cannot be ensured, school transportation and meals.

• Behavioural aspects.

• Curriculum expectations.

• Responses in line with national and local public health protocols.

• Monitoring and surveillance.

• Contingency planning.

2. Education ministry in collaboration with health ministry to issue a national policy on wearing of masks in schools (and provision of masks) based on WHO advice on the use of masks for children in the community in the context of Covid-19.

3. Ministries to issue school policies and guidelines on physical distancing, hand hygiene and environmental cleaning based on considerations for school-related public health measures in the context of Covid-19 and IASC Interim guidance for Covid-19 prevention and control in schools.

4. Ministries to adapt and disseminate health education messages on the disease and recommended good health behaviours.

5. Update national plan on disease outbreak preparedness and response based on best practices and lessons learned from the Covid-19 pandemic.

6. Update guidance on remote education support in the eventuality of an increased number of cases and moving to an online learning environment.

7. Establish a continuity plan for vaccination programmes, mental health programmes and psychological support for learners, teachers and school staff during school discontinuity.

8. Establish a committee for continuous monitoring and evaluation of the situation in schools in collaboration with the education sector.

Actions on a subnational level

1. Local public health authority to collaborate with school authorities to ensure epidemiological surveillance in schools in accordance with existing case investigation protocols.

2. Ensure that school response protocols are in accordance with the public health department recommendations or national/local policies and guidelines.

3. Support and sustain critical needs, including school feeding and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities; and sustain essential equipment (e.g. soap, alcohol-based hand-rub, masks and other personal protective equipment for staff involved in cleaning and disinfection) to ensure they are available for learners, teachers and school staff, as appropriate.

4. Ensure that WASH facility is operational in learning spaces before and during school openings in accordance with national guidance (e.g. soap, alcohol-based hand rub, hand washing stations), including cleaning and disinfectant supplies. If schools have been closed for prolonged periods of time, water systems should be flushed and chlorinated to prevent water-borne diseases or environmental contamination by potential pathogens after school reopening.

5. Disseminate health education messages on risk and protective behaviours, including messages on safe school reopening measures targeted at learners and their families to ensure adherence to measures and high learner return rates.

6. Local authorities to review and adopt contingency plans for disease outbreak preparedness and response for schools, and to ensure essential school-based health services during school closure (e.g. menstrual hygiene management, immunisation).

7. Contingency plans are available to support schools’ food distribution programmes to vulnerable population groups in case of school closures and are disseminated with related standard operating procedures.

8. Contingency plans to support schools in re-establishing WASH services in case of school closure are available and disseminated with related standard operating procedures.

9. An emergency response team is set up to coordinate the contingency plans for disease outbreaks between national, subnational, local and school authority levels.

Actions on school level

1. Set up a school support team (SST) appropriate to the local context – e.g. it may be composed of teachers, school administrators, learner and parents/caregivers – to assess the feasibility of implementing protective measures before school reopening based on the recommendations of national and subnational/local authorities. Measures could include, for instance:

• Assessing school premises for the capacity to maintain a distance of at least one metre: a) Outside classrooms for both learners (all age groups) and staff; and b) inside classrooms, based on age considerations and local Covid-19 transmission intensity;

• Assessing the availability and appropriateness of handwashing facilities, taking account of social, economic and cultural contexts;

• Assessing the needs of learners living with health conditions and special needs;

• developing options: a) to prevent the mixing of learners from different age groups and classes; and b) to reduce the risk of transmission by limiting the number of learners and staff in contact with each other to those within respective groups/years. Options might include:

- expanding timetables, with some learners and teachers attending in the morning and others in the afternoon or evening;

- staggering recesses/breaks;

- staggering lunch break (if difficult, an alternative is to eat lunch at the desk or to alternate when and where classes take lunch);

- establishing an order for each class to enter or leave the building/classroom;

- setting up different entrances for different classes.

2. The SST to revise personnel and attendance policies: a) to take account of health-related absences and persons with pre-existing health conditions; and b) to support remote and blended teaching approaches.

3. The SST: a) To review the feasibility of implementing physical distancing in and outside classrooms; and b) to identify areas where the measures cannot be implemented (e.g. in certain classrooms and/or with certain learner grades/years). Ensure strict wearing of masks if the use of these places cannot be avoided.

4. The SST to promote adherence to hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette. This includes identifying points at which to place hand hygiene equipment at school and classroom entrances, on all floors, and in toilet and canteen facilities, and creating schedules for frequent hand hygiene. Install supplementary handwashing facilities where possible to close existing gaps.

5. The SST to promote the wearing of masks among learners, teachers and school staff, in accordance with national and local guidance for mask use, including by age and especially where physical distancing cannot be achieved. This should include use of non-medical fabric masks, and medical masks under certain conditions (e.g. for immunocompromised children or those with other diseases, in consultation with the child’s medical provider). Mask use should adhere to national and local policies on wearing masks and should be in accordance with WHO recommendations.

Learners should be educated on the proper use of masks and the disposal of masks after use. Note that teachers and school staff may be required to wear masks if they cannot guarantee the one-metre distance or if they are in areas experiencing established community transmission.

6. School administrators and teachers to ensure adequate ventilation, using natural ventilation in classrooms, canteens and other rooms.

7. The SST to develop and disseminate guidance on protection measures through communication materials such as notes, posters, flyers.

8. The SST to instruct maintenance staff to reorganise the school layout, including classrooms, to enable physical distancing and hygiene measures based on the guidance, including cleaning and disinfecting the school environment at least once a day (including the cafeteria, gym and sports facilities). Particular attention should be paid to water and sanitation facilities and to surfaces that are frequency touched (e.g. railings, desks, lunch tables, sports equipment, doors, window handles, light switches, toys, teaching and learning materials, play equipment).

9. The SST to ensure adequate and enough supplies of soap, hand sanitiser and masks and to avoid potential stockouts.

10. The SST to conduct daily checks to ensure compliance with measures.

11. Teachers to conduct regular health education and pedagogical sessions to promote healthy and protective behaviours, and to address and counter rumours and false and misleading information, as well as Covid-19-related stigma.

12. School administration to engage with learners, parents and staff to ensure acceptance of the school’s protective measures, including when dropping off and picking up children from schools within and outside the school premises.

13. Raise awareness among staff and learners on the importance of self-reporting any symptoms.

Once a case is detected in the school, the following should apply:

> A representative of the school will be asked to investigate when the first confirmed Covid-19 case was identified in at least one person who attended or worked in the school during the infectious period. Cases should be isolated and contacts quarantined in accordance with national public health guidance.

> The school should provide a list of all learners (by grade, class, group activities) and staff (teachers, medical, administrative, other) to the investigation team. Class planning should be provided for learners identified as close or casual school contacts.

> All information provided to the investigation team, either by the school or by any of the persons involved, must be stored securely and confidentiality must be ensured at all times.

> An investigation team working with the public health authority will contact all known close and casual school contacts of a primary case(s) identified by the school and invite them to participate in the investigation.

> Identified school contacts should report to the relevant health authorities any signs or symptoms compatible with Covid-19 infection, in accordance with local protocols for contact tracing and management.

> Any contact with clinical symptoms within 14 days of the last exposure/contact with the primary case(s) should be considered a suspected case and should therefore be managed according to national/local case management protocols.

> Contacts who are found to be infected with Covid-19 should be reclassified as cases and followed up as cases.

14. A policy of “staying at home if unwell” is enforced for learners, teachers and school staff with symptoms and school sick leave policies are revised accordingly.

15. School health staff to keep a record of learners’ health status and development, including immunisation checks to prevent outbreak prone vaccine-preventable diseases (e.g. measles) and report to the school administration.

16. The SST to disseminate information on hygiene and cleaning protocols to school staff and learners.

17. School administration to re-assess and plan for additional staff required to implement adapted teaching methods (e.g. smaller groups, shifts) and enhanced cleaning practices in schools.

18. School administration, teachers, learners, parents/caregivers to identify measures for the continuation of school feeding and school-based health services

19. School administration to inform and update learners, staff and parents about current measures adapted to the evolving situation.

20. School administration to set up training sessions on distance learning, safety and cleaning, and disease outbreak prevention, preparedness and response measures.

21. School administration to provide training and learning materials/platforms for school staff and teachers to deliver (culturally sensitive and age-appropriate) messages, activities and lessons to prevent and control disease outbreaks in schools.

Fact boxes

Six dimensions to consider when planning for school reopening:



Safe operations


Reaching the most marginalised



Example of vulnerable and/or marginalised learners:

• Minorities

• Adolescent girls

• Migrants, children forcibly displaced or refugees

• Children living with disabilities

• Children living in institutions

• Children living in poverty

• Children living in countries affected by conflict

and other protracted crises

• Children living in overcrowded housing

• Children living in informal settlements

• Orphans

• Child-headed households

• Children who are separated from

their parents/caregivers

• Out-of-school children

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