Ramaphosa: reopening of schools under discussion

As the Department of Basic Education continues talks with unions who are demanding the immediate closure of schools, President Cyril Ramaphosa says saving lives is more important than finishing the academic year.

The president was speaking at a virtual public imbizo on Wednesday evening, after several teacher unions had called for the closure of schools until South Africa overcomes its infection peak.

The President said that numerous discussions are currently underway regarding the reopening of schools, and considerations from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and unions, as well as parents and learners, had to be taken into consideration.

“There has been a clear voice and message coming from the teacher unions and a number of other people; we are going to listen to that, we are going to engage,” said the president.

Ramaphosa also acknowledged that since the decision to reopen schools, a number of teachers and learners had been infected and killed by the virus. 

He added that his government was not weighing up the academic year against the number of lives, which could be lost.

“We must do everything possible to save lives, it’s not a matter of weighing up a threshold … that is an approach I don’t even want to see, I don’t even want to get to or I don’t even want any of us to talk about how many lives we must lose,” said the president in response to a question.

According to stats, South Africa is fast approaching its peak with more than 300 000 confirmed cases. Ramaphosa announced to the country on Sunday that the Covid-19 storm had arrived.

Learners have been gradually returning to classrooms, with grades 7 and 12 on June 8 and grades 6, 11 and R (in a few provinces) on July 6. The phasing in of other grades are set to take place between this month and next. 

Meanwhile, the South African Human Rights Commision (SAHRC) supports Unicef’s recommendation that children should return to schools as soon as possible as evidence (studies) points to harm being done to children by not being in school.

The commission had recently conducted an electronic survey on public schools in South Africa to understand the readiness of schools.

According to a media statement, the commission received responses from 4 485 schools. This represents close to 20% of schools in the country.

Some of the survey results:

Health and safety measures at schools

  • In all nine provinces, over 90% of schools reported that all learners wear masks at schools. In all provinces over 95% of schools reported that staff wear masks at school.
  • The percentage of responding schools reporting running water ranged from 47% (Eastern Cape) to 99% (Western Cape). In three provinces, over 90% of schools reported having running water. 
  • In all provinces, over 95% of responding schools reported having screening processes in place. 

 Learner and Staff Attendance

  • 74% of schools reported over 80% teacher attendance
  • 72% of schools reported over 80% learner attendance
  • 76% of schools reported over 80% support staff attendance

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga is expected to conclude discussions with education stakeholders by Friday, and Cabinet will then decide on whether schools are to continue with classes.