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Please, Mr President, fix these imbalances for the sake of our children

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Dr Simthembile Xeketwana is a lecturer in Curriculum Studies, Faculty of Education, at Stellenbosch University. His research interest is language and education, particularly in schools. He is also the residence head of Huis Francie van Zijl on Stellenbosch University's Tygerberg Campus.

It is yet again the poorest, especially in rural areas, who will suffer as schools close during the coronavirus pandemic. President Ramaphosa, there are things you need to do to remedy this.

“Cabinet has decided today that all public schools should take a break for the next four weeks,” said President Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday 23 July 2020.

Listening to the president and learning it was only public schools that would close, I cringed. I wondered if the president felt the way I did, or whether this was just another decision for him – like so many other decisions he has made before. 

Essentially, the president told us that his grandchildren, and those of his colleagues whose children benefit from private education, will continue their schooling uninterrupted. This, while the children of the poor and of those who voted for his political party will have to stay at home.

Hendrik Verwoerd would be over the moon if he knew that, all these years later, the privileged minority continues to benefit.

I am not arguing the case for whether closing schools during Covid-19 is right or wrong. I simply wish to highlight how sad it is that our children continue to experience inequality in education.

When public schools were in lockdown, private schools continued their lessons online. Rural and township learners were left out in the cold with little or no access to education. 

The decision to once again suspend classes at public schools does not mean the immune systems of learners at private school are stronger than that of their government school counterparts. All it means is that the rich continue to benefit while the majority, and the poor, continue to suffer. 

Additionally, this decision indicates the government acknowledges that public schools are overcrowded and therefore physical distancing will be impossible. The reality of 50+ children in a classroom is still pervasive in South Africa. 

With this decision, Mr President, will you commit to work tirelessly to ensure that the infrastructure in public schools is one day on a par with that of private schools?

Mr President, you and your Cabinet know very well that some public schools, especially in the rural areas, have no running water. The issue of proper sanitation remains unresolved, with many learners having to relieve themselves outside. Just another reason why you have to close public schools – there is no water for them to wash their hands.

Would it be too much if we asked for funds to be channelled in the right direction?

Also, Mr President, can you ensure that the learner-teacher ratio in public schools is addressed as a matter of urgency? 

These are basic things which, if they were in place, could have seen you and your Cabinet reaching a different decision. It has been widely noted that Covid-19 has exposed inequalities in the school system. I do not need to educate you on the unacceptable, myriad disparities that exist. 

The reason your and your colleagues’ children and grandchildren will continue benefiting from an education while others do not, is because the system is not equal. The playing field needs to be levelled so that the children of the Marikana mineworkers and the country’s farmworkers can also have a fair chance at life. 

I wait for Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga to provide a clear and executable plan on how this year will be salvaged. I do know that it’s likely there will be some casualties, but I hope the victims won’t be the children from the rural areas.

Who am I fooling? If there are to be casualties, the destitute will bear the brunt. I wait for you, Ma Angie, to disappoint me. 

For now, my heart is sinking with the realisation that the wealthy and privileged will continue getting an education while the majority of the poor and the destitute are once again left behind. DM

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