Parents and educators alarmed over president’s silence on schools


President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a four week closure for public schools from July 27 to August 24.

South Africa has shot up to 10th on the global list of total coronavirus infections. It has the third highest new infections daily. But the matter of schools continuing was not mentioned in President Cyril Ramaphosa’s address to the nation on Sunday night.

Parents and educators are questioning why the president failed to address the anxiety of parents who have to send their children back to school amidst the escalating pandemic.

“We are seeing an alarming number of daily infections and our death toll has now exceeded the 4 000 mark. The reality of the crippling effects of this virus has now hit home for many, as numbers have now become names.” This is a common thread of the sentiments expressed by most parents and educators interviewed by Student360 today.

Some, however, were more lenient towards the nation’s dilemma that learning needed to continue, and believed the necessary precautions were in place to ensure the safety of staff and children.

Last night, Ramaphosa suspended the sale and distribution of alcohol with immediate effect and reinstated a curfew among a number of measures to curtail socialising and movement in terms of the State of National Disaster, which was further extended to August 15.

The phased reopening of schools remains on track. 

This has left parents and educators – who now also see themselves as frontline workers – feeling anxious, uncomfortable and angry. 

Parents and teachers took to social media saying that the government is showing a total disregard for the lives of children and educators.

  • The principal of a Durban primary school said that the health and safety of his staff and learners was his number one priority and he has done everything possible to ensure that while they are in school, the most stringent safety measures are taken. “We take instructions from the Department of Basic Education. Although we are fearful, schools have to remain open unless otherwise decided. Unfortunately, there is nothing we can do and I pray daily that our school remains infection free.”
  • In another interview, an educator expressed how school had become a scary place to be at. “It is no longer a safe haven for learners and educators, and with the spike in positive cases, schools have become a ‘ticking time bomb’. As a teacher, I am constantly waiting for news from higher structures as to the way forward for saving ourselves and our learners from contracting the virus. It’s now just a matter of time.”
  • A parent who has been hit financially and is now struggling to find employment said her position is “very difficult”. She and her school-going child live with elderly folk and “the risk is far too great”. She said she could not commit to sending her child back to school until such time that there is a confirmed ruling on the academic year.
  • An educator in the north of KwaZulu-Natal said: “The silence on the issue of closing schools by our president last night was indeed deafening. Records reveal that hundreds of educators and learners have been infected and scores have passed on. South African schools opened on June 8, our winter, and this is the time that infection is set to peak. Learners should be back in the summer months to salvage what is left of the year”.
  • Another irate parent said that he found it ironic and “somewhat confusing” last night when listening to the president speak. “Don’t tell me that kids are immune to this disease or get a very mild form of it. That is utter nonsense. We have just lost a child in our community due to this virus. In the same breath, we have lost teachers to this virus as well, and so many more infections can be avoided if schools stay closed. Honestly, an academic year lost for my kids is a small price to pay for their health and longevity. Government needs to man up and protect those that are tasked to educate our future leaders and most importantly, protect our kids.”
  • A frustrated Pretoria parent said she was deeply concerned as her daughter’s grade (9) was set to return to school on August 3, at a time during which experts predict the pandemic and infection rate will be peaking in SA. “I am absolutely terrified, as my daughter has a condition that makes her high risk. Her school has the option of online classes but it will not be the same. Many countries around the world have decided to scrap this academic year … it is time the government came up with a plan for our children, but we simply cannot use them as guinea pigs.”

Not everyone felt the same way, and some believe the necessary precautions have been put in place to deal with an unenviable problem.

  • Freelance media practitioner and parent Langa Khanyile said: “To be fair to the president, I think he did not mention schools in particular because we should all be working on prior assumptions about the goings-on in the schooling sector. That said, the decision to keep schools open is consistent with the ‘new normal’ of doing things, including working remotely, and reinforcing a good hygiene regimen in society. Perhaps the best his address should have done was to give an update on what the government has done to improve things in ill-resourced public schools towards ensuring Covid-19 compliance, and that their pupils are not left behind their better resourced peers.”
  • A Western Cape parent had this to say: “Our little one went back today. The middle one goes next week and the eldest next month. I think schools do need to open. I know people say that we should wait ’till the pandemic is over, but who knows when that will be … it may not be this year, it may not be next year or even longer … one cannot keep schools and universities closed indefinitely.”

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