School desks apart to promote social distancing. File Picture: Courtney Africa/African News Agency(ANA)
School desks apart to promote social distancing. File Picture: Courtney Africa/African News Agency(ANA)

Covid-19 spike puts KZN schools at risk, concerns raised over high infection rate, disruptions to teaching and learning

By Sakhiseni Nxumalo Time of article published Aug 17, 2021

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DURBAN - GOVERNMENT departments in KwaZulu-Natal have been urged to move promptly to decontaminate schools to ensure that teaching is not unduly delayed due to Covid-19 infections.

This is after education bodies revealed that they were worried about the sharp increase in Covid-19 infections in the province’s schools, citing it as a huge blow for disadvantaged schools.

KZN Premier Sihle Zikalala revealed on Sunday that the province was experiencing an increase in cluster cases and schools had emerged as the biggest contributor, with more than 120 reported clusters in school settings, affecting more than 800 pupils and teachers.

The general secretary of the National Association of School Governing Bodies, Matakanye Matakanya, said the increase was concerning and needed urgent attention. Children were also getting infected and some were losing their lives to the virus, he added.

“Earlier, scientists had told us that children are not at risk, and now you find that they are actually being killed by the virus,” said Matakanya.

He said the Department of Education must ensure that all the required personal protective equipment (PPE) was provided in schools.

“Both departments – education and health – must work together to fight this. Every school must have a health facility nearby in order to ensure that whenever there is a case, they respond quickly and facilitate the fumigating and decontamination of the school the same day.

“Once the health officials are done with that, we will have the children back in school the following day or two, rather than wait for weeks.”

He said everyone should come on board to save lives and the academic calendar considering that schools were now in their third term.

The chairperson of the SA Principals’ Association in KZN, Linda Shezi, said schools were in a tricky situation where they had to strike a balance between keeping pupils safe while ensuring that teaching and learning continued.

Shezi said schools with adequate resources were able to cope, however, for township and rural schools it was a huge challenge.

“It is sad that all of a sudden schools are reporting such an increase in cases while the department and schools are doing their best to keep the children at school,” said Shezi.

He said many schools, especially rural and township ones, were faced with serious staff shortages which was felt even more when a teacher tested positive for Covid-19.

“For other schools it’s manageable because they either get substitute teachers or they continue with classes online, whereas in disadvantaged schools, principals have to adjust a lot to ensure that learning does not stop. Pupils sometimes find themselves without a teacher for two weeks or more while the teacher is in quarantine.”

On Sunday, the KZN chief executive of the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa, Thirona Moodley, said the union was saddened by the death of two pupils due to Covid19.

Moodley said the union had not previously seen such a high number of cases in schools and believed that the surge in cases was due to the Delta variant being more transmissible. She said it was vital that schools stick to the social distancing rule of 1m at all costs.

National Teachers Union (Natu) said the rise of infections demonstrated that government had rushed the opening of schools without ensuring that schools were adequately equipped to deal with the large numbers of pupils returning.

KZN MEC for Education Kwazi Mshengu said the surge of infections in schools continued to disrupt teaching, adding to the learning gaps.

“There seems to be fatigue in compliance with the regulations, both at school and in society. As we continue to follow the rotational timetable, it does appear that when learners are not in schools, they are found mostly on the streets, without proper compliance. We are also worried that some parents send learners to schools despite knowing that they exhibit signs of illness,” he said.

Mshengu called on parents to work with the department to arrest the rise of infections in schools by strictly following all the Covid-19 regulations.

“As the department, we will continue to make sure that all our schools are compliant. But that can only be effective if everyone within the schooling environment is able to follow the prescribed protocols,” he said.

Regarding Covid-19 cases in schools, the education department said it was still working with the Department of Health on both contact tracing and fumigation of affected schools.

A total of 7 983 new Covid-19 cases were identified in South Africa yesterday, compared to 10 139 on Sunday.

According to the National Department of Health, a further 299 Covid-19-related deaths have been reported, bringing the total fatalities to 77 440.

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases said the majority of new cases are from the Western Cape (27%), followed by KwaZulu-Natal (24%). The Eastern Cape accounted for 18% of the new cases; Gauteng and Northern Cape for 9% each; Mpumalanga for 7%; Free State for 6%; North West for 3%; and Limpopo for 1%.

THE MERCURY

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