Discussions on the reopening of schools are being held this week to seek an all-inclusive way forward.
This is according to President Cyril Ramaphosa who on Wednesday evening took part in a virtual imbizo, answering questions from ordinary South Africans on their concerns amid the pandemic that has led the country to a harsh lockdown.
Participants voiced views on a number of issues, including the suspension of the sale of tobacco products, the government barring social visits while allowing people to potentially be exposed to the coronavirus in fully loaded taxis.
A grade 12 pupil from Tembisa in Gauteng called into the imbizo and questioned Ramaphosa on the importance of reopening schools for lower school grades, such as grade Rs. He proposed the education department should stop schooling for all grades except grade 12s and for them to promote other pupils to the next grade in 2021.
Ramaphosa said they were aware of concerns from all affected stakeholders and that the government was “engaging them and listening to the concerns they are raising”, referring to parents, teachers’ unions and student organisations.
“We are paying heed and will have a discussion with all of them. Once we have developed consensus, we will then be able to reach a conclusion on what needs to be done,” he said.
Ramaphosa said the decision to open schools, particularly for grade 12s, 7s and grade Rs, was based on input from the education department that these grades would open up space for other pupils once they passed.
Grade Rs opened space for new pupils who are being readied for school while passing of grade 7s meant they moved on to high school and passing grade 12 elevated pupils to tertiary institutions.
“Those were the ones we felt we needed to start with it,” Ramaphosa explained.
However, he said that the latest view of the World Health Organisation had pushed them to rethink things.
The organisation has warned against the reopening of schools while local transmissions of the coronavirus are on the rise.
Ramaphosa said the view from WHO had forced them to “sit back, discuss and find solutions” to the matter of schools reopening.
With the basic education department facing mounting criticism for the decision to reopen schools, Ramaphosa said this was not the time for “finger pointing at who is at fault”.
He said there had been a consensus on the reopening of schools, albeit not everyone being in agreement that this was the correct move.
“I’ve come to learn that not everyone will agree with something that needs to be done because we are diverse and that is the richness of us being South Africans,” Ramaphosa said, adding that despite this, the aim should be to reach consensus.
A consensus needed to be reached on the next move too, he said.
“Some of the learners that I came across said, ‘President, we want to come back to school, we are tired of being at home, we want to be in class and to learn.’ Their views also need to be heard but we also need to hear the views of the parents, the unions and learner organisations and community at large and whole lot of other organisations,” Ramaphosa said.
The crucial talks on the future of the remainder of the school year would be held over the next few days.
“We will then assess what we have heard and discuss it with the medical advisory committee and come to a view in the light of what the WHO has said,” said Ramaphosa.
“I think we will come to a good and positive end which will be all-inclusive,” he said.
By Naledi Shange – TimesLIVE