Covid command council urges delay to schools opening

DA MPL Yusuf Cassim.

Eastern Cape education unions say the national coronavirus command council’s recommendation to postpone the reopening of schools to February 15 is the right move, though there are concerns.

Schools were scheduled to reopen on January 27, but Ebrahim Ansur, secretary-general of the national alliance of independent schools associations (Naisa) said the NCCC had recommended the department of basic education consult stakeholders on the view that all schools should delay reopening.

This was due to a spike in Covid-19 infections.

Education stakeholders including school governing body associations, teacher unions and Naisa met  senior officials from the department  on Wednesday night.

Thami Makuzeni, of the Public Servants Association, which represents thousands of educators and administrative staff at schools across the country, told DispatchLIVE the PSA appreciated that government was “now conscious of and alert to the seriousness of Covid-19″.

“Saving our children’s lives and those of teachers is of prime importance as they are the future leaders. We hope the province will use this time sparingly and ensure that they are ready to welcome the learners on February 15 with all the necessary personal protective equipment.”

Monga Peter, the Eastern Cape chair of the national association of school governing bodies, said the association was in agreement with the NCCC, on condition that full information on the postponement plan was made available.

Peter said there were more issues to address, including the curriculum recovery plan, which he said had not been clarified.

“Schools are still without adequate water supply, some are without toilets. In hostel schools, some learners are still sharing rooms in big numbers and they [hostel schools] are becoming superspreaders. Our SGBs have indicated that there are no adequate classrooms for staggered reopening,” he said.

“We call on the department of basic education to avoid its current knee-jerk approach on matters of life and death. A full disclosure on the proposal for postponing the reopening of schools, for further engagement, is sought,” Peter said.

He said the threats and implications of the reported education budget cuts was also an issue which needed to be addressed.

However, the DA in the Eastern Cape said it was in disagreement with the NCCC’s recommendation.

MPL Yusuf Cassim said postponing the date would deepen the inequalities of the province’s education system.

“Independent and private schools will shift their learning online while public schools will be further deprived as most learners will not be able to access online resources,” Cassim said.

He believes schools that are ready to open should open.

“The department should be compelled to do everything possible to help those schools which are not ready to open. Postponing  the date will result in loss of learning. We can’t go back there.”

The department of basic education was scheduled to meet the NCCC on Thursday and it would then report to cabinet, where a final decision would be taken.

“The official communication from cabinet on the opening of all schools is expected to be released after January 15,” Ansur said.

The department emphasised that the request to delay the reopening of schools was not coming from the department but from the NCCC to bring relief to the health system.

Ansur said schools that had already opened this week had a window period of a few days to induct new pupils until the date on which all schools should reopen was officially announced. — Additional reporting by Prega Govender