Back to school, back to normality?

Johannesburg, 17 Jun 2020
Read time 3min 10sec
Barry Venter, CEO, Nashua
Barry Venter, CEO, Nashua

As South Africa gradually eases the lockdown and moves to level three, the country is starting to return to some semblance of normality, which includes opening the education system once more. However, COVID-19 has changed the way schools will operate, and therefore the education sector must adapt and adopt proposed measures to defend all parties against coronavirus infection. In addition, not all learners will be returning to school, so will need to be able to participate in lessons remotely, wherever possible.

The Department of Basic Education announced the reopening of schools as of 8 June, with Grade 7 and 12 learners set to return to their classrooms. Other grades are expected to follow at later stages.

While the use of sanitisers and masks have been put forward by the government as essential items, there are other measures that schools could – and should – implement in the interests of protecting the health of learners and their parents, educators and visitors to their premises, says Barry Venter, CEO of Nashua.

The foremost measure that schools should be deploying is temperature monitoring, which can be automated using thermal solutions, removing the burden from already-stretched educators, says Venter. “We’ve always said that technology has a key role to play in education, and never has this been more true than under our current circumstances.”

Fever screening thermographic cameras can be deployed at the entrance to schools to monitor the temperatures of everyone entering the premises. Some schools already have access control measures in place and thermographic technology can simply be added to these, fixed in place at the access points to the building.

Fever screening thermographic cameras use advanced detectors and algorithms to detect elevated skin-surface temperatures without requiring physical contact. The device is connected to a PC, smartphone or network video recorder and triggers an alarm when it detects skin temperature outside a predefined range or even individuals who aren’t wearing masks. If someone has a fever, they can be turned away.

In addition, handheld thermographic devices can be used to detect temperatures in classroom situations as they are able to scan a group of people, picking up their temperatures simultaneously.

However, not all learners will be able to return to the classroom for myriad reasons. These learners will require remote access to lessons and coursework, so the right tools are essential. The school will need to have connectivity solutions such as fibre, wireless, Internet and LTE, as well as laptops or desktops and interactive whiteboards that will allow them to share notes made during lessons with remote learners. Tools that permit virtual sessions, such as Teams, Hangouts, Zoom and Skype are essential, as well as software suites that allow learners to complete tasks remotely.

Venter continues: “A technology that is having a significant impact on the way that content is delivered to learners is the interactive whiteboard, which is essentially a large, interactive display screen that can connect to a PC, so information is easily modified and stored – and either printed out or shared electronically with learners.”

Naturally, access to a computer and Internet connectivity enables learners both in the classroom and at home to participate in online learning, and move through the study material at their own pace. Venter concludes: “Schools are going to have to make these new ways of learning the new normal, deploying seamless solutions that make learning remotely feel less remote, and keeping those who attend school safe while doing so.”

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