School-related Covid-19 infections in South Africa paint a bleak picture, but Deputy President David Mabuza said schools would remain open and the academic year would be saved.
Figures released in the past 48 hours show two teachers have died, almost 100 have tested positive, 1 787 pupils tested positive and at least 28 schools had been closed in one day for cleaning.
However, yesterday Mabuza told pupils and teachers during a school visit in the North West: “Your classmates are coming back. What must happen now is that we must learn to live with the virus.
“The school is prepared so that we avoid some of you becoming infected. I am happy that you have saved the academic year. In three or four months, you will be sitting for your exams.”
Provincial education spokesperson Bronagh Hammond said the number of schools having to close because of the virus changed every day.
“On Monday 18 schools were closed, on Wednesday 15 and (on Thursday) 28 schools. It changes every day. It must be noted that closing a school may not be necessary. It is dependent on when the case was reported.
“A school can be cleaned over the weekend and thus not affect teaching and learning, or a school may be closed partially in a specific area,” she said.
Hammond said 98 teachers had been confirmed as positive for Covid-19.
Western Cape Education MEC Debbie Schäfer said there was no value in publicising the names of schools which had been closed due to a positive case of Covid-19 being confirmed.
“Obviously, parents of learners at a particular school where a Covid case is found, as well as staff, will be informed; it’s their right and we will do so.”
Meanwhile, five children in the province have died since the outbreak of the virus.
As the country moves towards the gradual return of other grades between July and August, parents and pupils have mixed feelings. Teacher unions called for added support for teachers and better care for their and the pupils’ mental well-being.
National Teachers’ Organisation of SA executive director Basil Manuel said teachers and their families needed support.
“There is a lack of psychological support, the fear and trauma is too much for both teachers and pupils, but nothing is being done,” he said.
However, Manuel said the Department of Basic Education would be meeting with the unions to further discuss the need and implementation of psychological care in schools.
While Manuel did not completely disagree with the opening of schools, he said: “If the infection rates in the Eastern Cape and Western Cape continue to rise, we may see a larger number of schools shutting down.”
Earlier this week, the Educators’ Union of South Africa took the department to court over the reopening of schools, saying the move was premature.
“There is no way that a department that has deliberately overlooked the fact that schools do not have toilets and water after 26 years of democracy can have any good intentions for us,” the union said.
But the case was thrown out of court as it was found that the application contained material flaws.
For some pupils the prospect of going back to school was daunting, while for others it was not necessarily a bad idea.
“We hear of teachers being infected and some dying more and more now. We are supposed to go back to school next month and that means more people in schools, I am very scared.
“Don’t get me wrong, I am happy, but I am also scared because we will not get tested before we enter school and sometimes people don’t show any symptoms,” said a Grade 11 pupil from Masiyile High.
Boniswa Hopa, mother of two high school girls, said: “It is evident that both teachers and pupils will get the virus.
“As a parent I am torn between sending my children back or not, because what is the point of keeping the children out of school in a bid to keep them safe and then I go to work and bring it back home to them?” – Argus