Fear of infection is keeping children from the classroom, principals tell Angie Motshekga

Fear and anxiety about Covid-19 infections are leading to high absenteeism at many SA schools, principals say. Picture: 123RF/paylessimages

Fear and anxiety is leading to high pupil absenteeism in many SA schools as Covid-19 infections continue to increase.

This is one of several concerns members of the SA Principals Association (Sapa) put on the table to education minister Angie Motshekga on Friday, as part of her consultations with education stakeholders about the closure of schools.

Sapa provincial heads shared several issues they were concerned about regarding the Covid-19 crisis and how it has affected their schools.

National president David de Korte said their intention was to allow the minister “to hear the issues that are being faced in every province and let this input inform her when she discusses these matters with cabinet and the president”.

This included fear and anxiety among pupils about the virus as well as the toll it was taking on principals’ and teachers’ mental health.

“There is a lot of anxiety around the fear of infection at school. In many schools this is leading to high learner absenteeism,” De Korte said.

Principals also spoke about the pressure the pandemic had placed on the mental health and wellbeing of teachers and principals.

“The crisis is dividing schools into the haves and the have-nots.

“Well-resourced schools have been able to offer online teaching and meet the added requirements that the pandemic has placed on them.

“On the other hand, poorly resourced schools have not been able to teach during lockdown, and now that they are open, they are under pressure to cope with teachers off sick.

“This was described to the minister as the tale of two cities.

“Transport to and from school has also been a challenge. This is where children are exposed, and social distancing is not observed.

“Principals are being placed under extreme pressure from their communities to do what the community wants and not necessarily what the department of basic education or provincial protocols dictate.

“An example of this would be the community insisting that the whole school close for 14 days after a positive case on campus, while the education department protocol is only closing for cleaning, which can be as short as one day,” said De Korte.

Schools throughout SA have been affected with many being forced to close and then reopen after deep cleaning because of infections among teachers and pupils.

In Gauteng as of July 9, according to statistics collated by TimesLIVE, 965 schools have been affected by the virus, with a total of 1,159 positive cases including teachers, pupils, general assistants and administration staff.

​Limpopo province as of July 16 had 76 teachers and 30 pupils who tested positive.

According to the Northern Cape education department’s Facebook page, as of July 15, 59 schools were affected by Covid-19 since June 8.

Forty-four teachers and 35 pupils have been infected with the virus.

The Western Cape education department indicated that as of July 3, 214 pupils had tested positive since June 1.

When it came to staff, both teachers and non-teaching employees, 755 had been infected since May 22.

The North West education department had 55 new confirmed Covid-19 related cases as of July 9.

In the Eastern Cape 11 teachers and four non-teaching staff lost their lives due to the virus. It is understood that three infected pupils have also died.

By Suthentira Govender and Lwandile Bhengu – TimesLIVE

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