Eastern Cape schools may be open but increasing numbers of parents are taking their children out of class over fears of Covid-19.
Schools in the province have seen a significant drop in daily attendance numbers since schools reopened on June 8 for matrics and Grade 7 and on July 6 for grades 6, 11 and R.
The increase of Covid-19 cases and teachers staying away due to underlying health conditions are the biggest factors driving the rising absenteeism levels.
The National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of SA (Naptosa) and the South African Principals Association said many schools had recorded pupil absentee rates of between 30% and 40%.
Naptosa’s Eastern Cape CEO, Loyiso Mbinda, said the rise in Covid-19 numbers had created high levels of anxiety among parents, who opted to keep their children at home.
“There’s a growing fear as the numbers increase. Parents are scared to take their children to school,” Mbinda said.
“The ongoing temporary closures of schools when positive cases are discovered has also caused much disruption. It has not only compromised the academic year but also the attendance numbers,” said Mbinda.
He said teachers and support staff who were staying away from schools due to comorbidities weakened the operations of some schools.
“This has also caused a ripple effect where learners are staying away from school,” Mbinda said.
“Then you get schools which are faced with the ongoing battle with pit toilets and poor sanitation. Learners and teachers of those schools are also staying away as nothing has yet been fixed,” he said.
Eastern Cape National School Governing Body (NASGB) association chairperson Monga Peter said an increase in absenteeism at schools was to be expected.
“Circumstances of loss of life, knowing people who were waiting for test results at schools and many educators reporting comorbidities has seen an increase in absenteeism,” Peter said.
“In cases where teachers report comorbidities, learners are then left alone at school and for such reason, they don’t see the need to go to school. The back and forth closure of schools has also caused disruptions in the interest and stability of the schooling programme. And of course, there is the overall state of anxiety and fear emanating from the pandemic.”
Mxolisi Mbityi, a school governing body member at Makhazi Public School in Kei Mouth, said attendance numbers at the school had seen a significant drop.
“On Monday we opened for our Grade 7s. Only nine out of 24 arrived. Parents have their reservations about taking their children back to school. We understand the fear but parents must also remember that they need to apply to the department if they want to deregister their children from school.”
Siyabulela Simani, an SGB member at Embekweni Junior Primary school in Mdantsane, said the school had reopened for Grade 7 pupils but the attendance numbers were dwindling by the day.
“With the increasing number of infections learners have stayed away more. The children came out in numbers when we first reopened but now we see fewer children coming to school,” Simani said.
Royden Kennedy, a teacher representative on Dale College’s SGB, said pupils at the school were staying away due to family members falling ill with Covid-19.
“All systems and protocols are in place at the school, and the boys have responded positively to those regulations.
“The boys hear about Covid-19 rules at the start of every period, which is seven times a day. Their response and how they’ve handled themselves has added much value to the school.”
“Our observation on absenteeism is that boys have been staying away because of parents or relatives contracting the virus from the workplace. As educators we must respect that, and the decision parents take to keep their children at home,” Kennedy said.
The absenteeism trend is being reflected in other parts of the country.
Residensia Secondary in Sebokeng, Gauteng, which has remained closed since June 18 after a teacher tested positive for Covid-19, could not accept 197 Grade 11 pupils back last Monday.
The 225 matrics there have received only one full day of lessons since schools reopened on June 8, sparking fears that teachers won’t be able to complete the syllabus on time.
Education spokesperson Loyiso Pulumani said he was unable to get feedback from the relevant officials with regard to absenteeism statistics in the Eastern Cape.
Additional reporting by Prega Govender.