▶ Watch Video: Back to school in South Africa means longer days and some students living with teachers

South Africa has more coronavirus cases than any other country in Africa, with almost 640,000 reported. Students there started returning to school weeks ago, but it’s been a huge challenge, partly due to the deeply unequal society.

During the country’s hard lockdown, online learning was impossible for thousands of children because of a lack of access to technology. So, for many students in South Africa, going back to school was the only solution.

Access to resources may differ from school to school, but protocols are the same: temperature checks, masks, hand sanitization and social distancing. 

Dendron Secondary School in an impoverished rural area took it one step further. While other children were playing during South Africa’s hard lockdown, final-year students at Dendron moved in with their teachers who supervised their studies in small home groups.

“There are four people in each room and we get lunch there after school,” said Kopano Lephalala, Dendron’s top performing student. “It’s important because getting a good education — especially in South Africa — it sort of determines where you’re going to end up in life, so you need to get a good education so you can get into a good university or even just become someone better.”

To make up for any lost time, the students are now at school every day from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m. seven days a week. 

Principal Moloko Matsapola is teaching a larger lesson.

“In life, there’s no excuse,” Matsapola told CBS News foreign correspondent Debora Patta. “There is no certificate that will be written … I believe that nothing beats the human spirit.”

At Roedean School, an elite all-girls school in Johannesburg, access to technology has made the physical challenges posed by the pandemic easier to manage.

The younger grades rotate between in-person and online learning so that strict social distancing can be maintained in classrooms to accommodate only 15 students at a time.

But there are still emotional concerns.

“For some of the girls, being isolated and not being able to spend time with their friends was really, really difficult,” said Fiona Rogers, the principal at Roedean School. “We had quite a number of parents phoning and saying, my daughter’s, for the first time in her life, she’s experiencing anxiety or depression.”

The school’s psychologists have been offering counseling services, but for the most part, South African scholars have adapted quickly to schooling in a COVID-19 world.

At the beginning of the pandemic there were infection outbreaks in some schools, but since health protocols have been adopted nationwide, most schools are managing to keep their children safe from COVID-19. 

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