Solidarity strongly condemned the announcement by the Department of Basic Education (DBE) that schools would now only re-open on February 15. The minister of DBE in South Africa (SA), Angie Motshekga still said last week that learners would return to public schools on January 27. The latest announcement came after the Department met with the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) where it was decided to postpone the opening of schools by another two weeks.
“It is extremely short-sighted of government to keep children out of schools for this period,” says Johnell van Vollenhoven, media and liaison officer at Solidarity, in their latest media statement. “Research from various sources has already shown that a school is in most cases the safest place where a child can find him- or herself during the pandemic. Not only do children receive much-needed education at school, but they are also supervised where safety measures are strictly enforced and most children also receive their only meal for the day at school. The UN’s Children’s Fund (UNICEF) already said on 12 January that closing schools should be the last resort.”
According to Solidarity, the NCCC does not act in the best interests of learners. UNICEF, the World Health Organisation (WHO), as well as the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) agree that schools could open if the necessary measures are in place. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) believes that all measures dealing with schools should aim to have all children physically at school to be taught there and not only online. Furthermore, there is no evidence that the opening of schools results in any intensification of positive cases of the virus.
The statement from Solidarity made it clear that they consider the consequences of this postponement as devastating for governing body appointments and other additional services schools offer. Teachers are already under pressure to catch up on backlogs that resulted from school days lost last year. It would be unreasonable to expect that further backlogs arising from the latest postponement of the school year would now also have to be addressed.
“Keeping schools closed is detrimental to the entire school community. The harm children suffer by being deprived of access to food and supervision has far-reaching consequences. These children cannot continue with their learning programmes either, which affects their scholastic progress, leaving a permanent scar on their academic careers. “Solidarity cannot merely accept that the jobs of our members who are working in education are jeopardised. This is the umpteenth time that the government is sacrificing citizens, in this case teachers, on the stake because their own (government’s) preparation is lacking,” Van Vollenhoven concluded.