Pressure is mounting on the department of basic education to close schools.
This follows the nationwide call from education unions and experts who have cited the increase in Covid-19 infections at schools as the main reason to keep them closed.
This week, after meeting with the Council of Education Ministers, basic education minister Angie Motshekga said her engagements with various education stakeholders would inform her submission to the cabinet at the weekend.
Against this backdrop, many schools in the Buffalo City Metro cautioned parents of an “imminent closure” and advised pupils to take their learning resources home on Friday.
DispatchLIVE saw letters from Cambridge Primary and Selborne Primary which said school management was prepared for whatever decision Motshekga would take on the closure of schools.
Parents from St Anne’s, Hudson and George Randall Primary said their children had been told to take all stationery home on Friday, “just in case”.
Education unions including the SA Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu), National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of SA (Naptosa) and the Public Servants Association (PSA), have all been resolute in the call for the closure of schools.
This week Sadtu said schools should remain closed until the end of the Covid-19 peak.
Eastern Cape department of education spokesperson Loyiso Pulumani said: “In the midst of the concerns raised, it must not be forgotten that the number of reported cases still remain at less than 1% of the total school population that has resumed classes.
“Schools continue with the delivery of learning and teaching and the department has also not lessened the additional support materials that are made available to all learners through a variety of online sources.”
East London Secondary School principal Ben Chetty said his heads of department were prepared “no matter the decision”.
“If the minister decides to close schools we will take it further and move from there. Education packs have been collected. If a shutdown is imminent, we would expect it to last until the end of August,” Chetty said.
He said attendance at the school had dropped significantly, with only 45% of pupils in attendance.
“The parents fear taking their children to school, understandably so. The way the numbers are going in the province, a closure of schools is needed,” Chetty said.
Selborne Primary headmaster Riaan Bisschoff said his school was prepared for any eventuality.
“The recent media speculation, as well as statements by WHO regarding schooling, means that as a school we need to be prepared for any surprise that may come our way. We are planning for the worst, which in our case would be a full school closure over the weekend. In light of this, all boys will take home their books,” said Bisschoff.
A teacher at George Randall Primary said pupils had taken all their learning resources home.
“Assessment week is on the horizon so we want to be prepared for that. They’ve taken their work home so that if schools close, they’re able to continue with virtual learning programmes,” the teacher said.
Another primary schoolteacher in East London said: “The news of a school closure hasn’t reached us yet.”
The teacher said it would be in the interest of the pupils to continue with learning at the school.
“In our case, if the children don’t come to school, a lot of them don’t have the online resources for virtual learning. Then next year, our learners are expected to know the work from the ‘trimmed’ curriculum, setting our impoverished schools back yet again.”
Education lobby group Equal Eduction (EE) and the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) have encouraged the continuation of schooling.
EE’s head of communications, Leanne Jansen-Thomas, said: “We understand the fears and anxieties of teachers, many of whom have had a significant additional mental and emotional responsibility placed on them.
“Learner members of Equal Education have expressed to us, via surveys, that they want to be in school [the survey was undertaken when grades 7 and 12 returned to school].
“Learners who are back at school are more easily able to access meals, can more easily access psychosocial support, and don’t have to struggle with learning independently,” said Jansen-Thomas.
In a statement released this week, SAHRC says: “The commission understands the concerns expressed and acknowledges that there will be infections at some schools.
“However, the commission supports the position of Unicef that children should return to schools as soon as possible because ‘evidence points to harm being done to children by not being in school’.
“In taking this decision the commission has considered that by the end of July SA children, depending on the grade they are in, will have lost between 20% and 50% of scheduled school days as a result of Covid-19 school closures,” the statement reads.