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Should schools still remain open with the rising number of COVID-19 cases?

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Since the phased reopening of South African schools started, more than 700 schools had to be temporarily closed across our country. The Department of Basic Eduaction (DBE) has confirmed that since schools opened their gates on the 8th of June, there have been no less than 775 schools affected after 1169 teachers and 523 learners tested positive for Coronavirus. On the 15th of June 3495 new cases were reported on a daily basis and 10 496 new cases were reported yesterday, 14 July. The question that is now more pressing than ever is if schools should remain open with the COVID-19 statistics rising so rapidly?

The concern that teachers and learners’ health and well-being are severely compromised and The Education Union of South Africa (EUSA) has called for schools to only reopen in September 2020 when temperatures are higher and the season is changing. National Professional Teachers’ Association of SA president Basil Manuel said this association is also fearing that calls for the academic year to be scrapped could result in a high drop-out rate of pupils.

Schools in underprivileged and rural communities run the risk of much higher infection rates due to unhygienic conditions as there are no proper sanitation facilities and limited to no access to sufficient PPE that is of the utmost importance to contain the infection rate. Manuel has also confirmed that the number of learners in poor areas that haven’t returned to school is much higher than wealthier areas.

In a shocking statement released on the 20th of June 2020, Sadtu in the Eastern Cape said it had noted several concerning discrepancies within the Eastern Cape Department of Education, including late delivery and poor quality PPE in most schools, no PPE for non-teaching staff and then of course severely dilapidated classrooms.

In contrast to independent findings, Minister of Education, Angie Motshekga have boasted on many news platforms that a number of preventative measures have been taking to ensure that learners will be protected when they return to their classrooms which includes providing every learner with two cloth masks, implementing social distancing measures, orientating teachers around COVID-19 protocols, employing a full-time screener at each school, the list goes on and on…

With all these discrepancies in communication between ministers, unions, and government, the concern about learners and their education future hangs in the balance. There is the ever-growing worry that learners in poor communities will just fall further and further behind. The Department of Education would not say whether the school closures would affect the learning rhythm, especially considering that some schools have had to close a second time.

This is where we turn to you Mr President – jeopardise our children and teachers, or are you finally going to ensure that the gap is bridged that all communities have access to the resources they need? The ball has never been in our court but yours…

Should schools still remain open with the rising number of COVID-19 cases?

AUTHOR

Inge Liebenberg

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