Coronavirus & Schools

Cabinet to decide on possible reclosure of schools

By Ayanda Mthethwa 19 July 2020
Caption
Five teachers’ unions have proposed that schools be closed during the Covid-19 peak and throughout winter. (Photo: Roger Sedres / Gallo Images via Getty Images)

Five teachers’ unions have called for schools to close during the peak of the pandemic and to make alternative arrangements for Grade 12s.

Six weeks after schools reopened, the Cabinet again has to decide whether schools should remain open or close again ahead of the Covid-19 peak.

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga met with the Cabinet on Sunday 19 July to discuss proposals made by stakeholders in the education sector about schooling ahead of the peak. 

Teachers’ unions are among the stakeholders that made submissions to the minister for inclusion in the proposal to the Cabinet. A joint submission from five teachers’ unions calls for schools to close during the peak of the pandemic and make alternative arrangements for Grade 12s. 

The unions propose that schools be closed during the peak and throughout winter. 

“The system should use this time to attend to all outstanding issues, including the provision of water, building of toilets and additional classes and teachers. Schools should reopen at the end of August 2020, subject to review based on the development of the virus,” the joint submission states. 

The unions say priority must be given to Grade 12 learners who have to write their school-leaving exams in four months’ time. 

“Prioritise Grade 12 and look at different modes to assist them while they are at home. Grade 12 should return on Monday, 17 August 2020,” said the unions.

Additionally, they ask that the department of education engage with the higher education sector to consider holding late registration in 2021 for first-year students. 

With more than 300,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, SA is number eight on the list of countries with the most positive cases. 

During an imbizo on 15 July, President Cyril Ramaphosa acknowledged that although schools had attempted to ensure that Covid-19 regulations such as wearing masks and social distancing were followed, a number of teachers and learners had tested positive for the virus. 

He also alluded to advice from the WHO, which cautioned against reopening schools while the virus is at its peak. 

“We are going to listen to that and we are going to engage… we will come to a conclusion on what we should do,” he said. 

To date, only grades R, 12, 7, 6 and 11 have returned to school, with another cohort of learners, comprising grades 3 and 10, expected to return on Monday, 20 July. 

However, Eastern Cape postponed the return of grades R, 6 and 11 to 20 July, when in fact they were supposed to return on 6 July. 

In a circular dated 17 July, the KwaZulu-Natal head of the department of education advised that no other grades be phased in during the month of July. 

This raises the issue of inequalities being perpetuated by the disparities in how schools have come to operate during the pandemic. 

Despite there being research supporting why children should stay in school and pronouncements made by international bodies like Unesco about the detrimental impacts of keeping children out of school for a long period of time, the impact of keeping schools open cannot be ruled out. 

The Sunday Times reported that the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools (Fedsas) – which mainly represents former Model C schools – is resolute that schools should remain open.

“There may be tens of thousands of teachers who want the schools closed but there are millions of parents who want to send their children back,” Fedsas CEO Paul Colditz was quoted saying. 

The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) is also of the view that schools should remain open. 

The commission said, in a statement, that its stance on the matter was informed by the fact that: “By the end of July 2020, South African children, depending on the grade they are in, will have lost between 20% and 50% of scheduled school days as a result of Covid-19 school closure” and “the social, economic and health costs associated with lockdown and school closures”. 

The department of basic education has said that an announcement would be made soon after all engagements had been concluded. DM

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