With only one week to go before public schools reopen for the 2021 academic year, the DA is not convinced all schools in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal the Eastern Cape will be ready.
After oversight visits in recent weeks, the party said many schools have poor sanitation and access to clean water, saying this was a gross violation of human rights and “beyond shameful”.
After an oversight visit by the parliamentary portfolio committee on basic education, DA spokesperson on basic education Baxolile Nodada said in KwaZulu-Natal, 120,000 pupils who are eligible for pupil transport do not have access to the state-funded transportation. They had to walk “ridiculous distances to schools, and in many instances this is a cause of the massive dropout rate throughout the years of schooling”.
He said it was time for the basic education department to get its house in order to ensure schools can safely reopen on February 15.
“Many schools do not have proper or any access to clean water and sanitation. That this should still be a concern in 2021 is simply shocking. The world is suffering at the hands of a pandemic, the main defence against which is cleanliness. Pupils and personnel do not have access to a basic human right that is their first line of defence against Covid-19. This is beyond shameful,” he said.
He said infrastructure development in some schools in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal was woefully inadequate, with many classrooms built with dangerous materials like asbestos.
Some schools had been closed after they were deemed unsafe for pupils. There were also not enough classrooms in some schools, making social distancing impossible. Some schools were vandalised by communities.
The basic education department has denied it was not ready for reopening next week.
Spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said while things may not be perfect due to inequalities in the country, this didn’t mean schools were not ready to reopen.
“Last June, the DA sang the same chorus that schools were not ready, but when schools reopened everything was in place. Not one pupil or teacher died after contracting Covid-19 at school. Those who did were mostly infected in communities. There is no crisis,” said Mhlanga.
Nodada said more than 400 schools, mostly in Gauteng, had been vandalised.
“Schools have been the target of those venting their frustration and anger at government. Many schools have been left in such disrepair that they cannot be used at all, or left with damage limiting the safe space in which pupils can congregate. The department is failing to allocate a security guard at some schools, with ridiculously poor excuses to perform this simple function. More than 400 schools have been vandalised and 62 disasters have occurred across just three provinces,” he said.
He said maintenance of infrastructure was poor, with schools in these areas having inadequate budgets despite such shocking conditions. Some provinces had hundreds of special needs pupils who had not been assessed nor placed in schools, “with their futures doomed and some losing their lives without accessing education”.
“The reality is that the department of education had the December holidays and an extra two weeks to address any issues regarding the safe reopening of schools in provinces, and the reopening cannot be delayed. Children need education. The longer they remain out of classrooms, the poorer the quality of education will inevitably be.
“However, the DA believes schools should only open if they are able to do so safely and this should be determined by individual schools and not on a national level.”
Mhlanga said the department shouldn’t be blamed for vandalism of schools.
He hit back at Nodada, saying he should look at the Western Cape in which the DA governs.
“I’m sure the Western Cape has similar problems. The DA should tell us what is happening in the Western Cape, and should be part of the solution instead of shouting from the fence.”
Nodada said the portfolio committee will visit the Western Cape this week.
By Sipokazi Fokazi – TimesLIVE