Mixed views on reopening of schools

By Roland Mpofu Time of article published Jul 24, 2021

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Teacher unions and education activists have raised concerns about the state of readiness for tomorrow's schools reopening and a full return of primary school pupils as Covid-19 case numbers continue to rise across the country. The situation is further worsened by the recent riots which saw hundreds of schools being vandalised in parts of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.

Yesterday, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga announced that all schools were ready to open tomorrow and to continue to work within the established Covid-19 health protocols. She also announced the resumption of full school attendance in the primary schools from Monday next week.

Motshekga said in KZN 137 schools were vandalised while three education centres and eight circuit offices were affected. In Gauteng, 11 schools were vandalised during the unrest and 33 schools had been destroyed from the beginning of the year.

“In Gauteng, more than 43 schools have been vandalised since the year began. Eleven of the cases were reported after schools went on a recess on 2 July, 2021, and 29 of the 43 schools have already been repaired while work is underway to finish the others as soon as possible,” she said.

“This senseless attack on education infrastructure, leads to the vandalising of ablution blocks and plumbing equipment; destruction of water supplies, including theft of school water tanks; ripping off of electric wires, especially copper cables; ripping off school fences; setting alight libraries, textbooks and stationery,” she said.

“Clearly, ICT equipment and the National School Nutrition Programme supplies and equipment were targeted the most. Saddening is that most schools were left with serious structural damages, which would place the safety of learners and teachers at risk.

“Though the Department of Basic Education and the KZN Department of Education have not finalised all their assessments, the preliminary estimates received as of yesterday, put the figure above R300 million.”

However, education activist Hendrick Makaneta said he was not convinced that schools were ready to reopen to full daily timetables considering the extent of the damage and the rising Covid-19 cases in KZN and Gauteng.

“Undoubtedly the unrest affected schools particularly in KwaZulu-Natal where most of the schools were looted and others damaged, including one that was burnt. In total 180 schools in KZN and Gauteng have been destroyed, with about R300 million worth of damage.

“At this stage the majority of teachers have been vaccinated and that on its own brings relief. But the schools in townships still have to grapple with overcrowding which is a cause for concern. The schools that are ready are those in the suburbs because of their proximity to resources,” said Makaneta.

“Generally speaking, the schools are ready to proceed with a rotational timetable for learners. South Africans will recall that by the time the president announced level 4 restrictions coupled with early closure of schools, learners were busy with mid-year assessments. The reopening of schools means that most of the affected schools will carry on with their assessments,” said Maketa.

Meanwhile, Executive director for the National Professional Teachers Organisation of SA (Naptosa) Basil Manuel said they were worried about the safety of their members in areas like Phoenix in KZN.

“What this whole issue has done it has certainly sparked fears and anxiety in people. And then consider the incident that happened in Phoenix, whether you like politics or not, the bottom line is something indeed happened that should not have happened,” he said.

“Are the schools ready to go back? The department will tell you yes but we are guided by a number of things. We know pupils will return on Monday. The 2nd of August is the first time in a year and half the full cohort of children will be at school, that is a huge issue. We know that at that point there were deficits, they were things missing and these things did not all of a sudden evaporate.

Meanwhile, SA Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) general secretary Mugwena Maluleke said they believe that pupils and teachers are ready after receiving a report from the department and were convinced that there was a commitment to ensure that there was safety and health equipment in schools.

In terms of vaccination, Motshekga said the sector had targeted 582 000 personnel and when it formally closed the programme, 517 000 had been inoculated which equates to an 89% success rate.

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