The Democratic Alliance (DA) has taken note of Basic Education Minister, Angie Motshekga's briefing taking place tomorrow in light of swirling rumors and reports suggesting that the government may consider pushing back the reopening of schools.
While we are pleased by the Minister's imminent address, the DA calls for an urgent meeting of the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education to be briefed by relevant health experts and the Departments of Basic Education and Health on the best way to safely reopen schools for both teachers and learners; what the recommendations of the Ministerial Advisory Committee are regarding schools; the consequences of school closures on the learners; and the effect on their future education. In addition, we need to know the facts regarding the effect of Covid-19 on teachers as opposed to other professions, and what measures are being put in place to ensure that teachers are vaccinated as soon as possible.
Parents and schools need certainty that any decision on schools reopening will be based on empirical evidence - not based on the whims of government.
The prioritization of the health and safety of learners and teachers cannot be undermined, however, the DA does not believe that pushing back the reopening of schools would be wise.
In fact, we believe that such a decision will only do more harm than good.
Every day that children are out of school exacerbates the education crisis in a country already far below international best practice and standards. It further creates inequalities as those who have access to online learning opportunities, whether schools are open or not, will continue to learn, whilst the poor and vulnerable sit at home.
Pushing out the start of the academic year can also have adverse consequences on learners, especially on their psychological and academic development.
Many learners are still coming to terms with the disruptions to the 2020 academic year, particularly as it relates to their physical safety, access to school feeding schemes, and the pressures of distance/hybrid learning where online resources are lacking.
Instead of possibly delaying the reopening of schools, the Department of Basic Education (DBE) should have used this period to ensure that all schools have proper Covid-resources and regulations in place to welcome back teachers and learners. These include:
The proper implementation of social distancing protocols at schools.
Access to safe PPE, clean water and proper sanitation.
An emergency health plan at all schools in response to positive cases.
Clear plans to continue schooling for those teachers or learners who suffer from comorbidities.
The DA is of the view that schools that do not adhere to the above-mentioned regulations, cannot reopen until such time that they are compliant.
In addition to this, not all provinces are equally affected by the Coronavirus pandemic, and instead of delaying the reopening of all schools, the DBE should consider a differentiated approach, where Provincial Education Departments should decide, in consultation with their Provincial Health Departments, whether schools need to close or not for a period of time. This will prevent a nationwide shutdown of schools when there is a peak in cases, in individual provinces.
In the meantime, the government must also work on its plans around the vaccination of teachers, as announced by the President earlier this week.
It is for this reason that the DA has called for an urgent meeting between the experts, the Ministerial Advisory Committee, and the Departments of Education and Health in order to get clarity on the above-mentioned concerns.