Parents and Teachers’ unions have been calling for schools to be closed for the whole month of August because of the increasing COVID-19 infections. Parents were saying the lives of the learners’ matter and their safety should come first. Following the calls for schools to be closed, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Thursday evening that schools would be closed for four weeks as Covid-19 infections in South Africa surge. The president also advised that the academic year would stretch beyond 2020, to ensure its recovery while prioritising the health of the pupils.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), schools should only reopen when a country is experiencing fewer community infections. I strongly believe that the decision to close all public schools for at least 4 weeks is a good call until it is safe to return. Many public schools, specifically the ones in rural areas, have no running water. This makes hand-washing nearly impossible and can put the lives of the pupils at risk of contracting Covid-19.
It is not safe for learners to attend under-resourced schools and overcrowding classes especially now that the coronavirus cases are dramatically increasing. Several teachers have already died of the virus. Hundreds of schools across the country have been forced to close since the reopening of schools on the 8th of June, due to the learners and teachers contracting the virus.
There is no question that school is good for learners, not only for the education that they provide but also for their development, as well as mental and physical health. It is also a place where learners, who come from poor families, receive nutritious meals. Interruptions in education can profoundly harm child development and make it harder to reduce the achievement gap between high- and low-income families. Some learners don’t have access to the internet at home, let alone computers or devices with which they can actively participate in e-learning.
The Department of Education must ensure that all schools have resources to safely reopen on the 24th of August. A failure to do so would further exacerbate disparities in education and would leave children in already vulnerable communities further behind than those in urban areas.
It is essential for the department to make use of this four week period to adequately prepare all the schools for reopening. If the department doesn’t provide resources for all schools then they are sending a clear message to the public that children’s lives don’t matter.