The reopening of schools took a phased approach to limit the potential spread of COVID-19 infections, but as schools have reopened, the number of cases continues to rise.

This week has seen a chorus of unions calling on the Department of Basic Education (DBE) to close schools in the wake of rising infection numbers.

On Tuesday the South Africa Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) said that there are high rates of absenteeism at schools as teachers and pupils are understandably worried about contracting COVID-19.

“There’s little effective teaching and learning taking place when you have fewer learners in the classroom than you have got teachers,” Sadtu secretary-general Mugwena Maluleke said according to an EWN report.

The union called for the use of education apps where content is verified and authenticated by the DBE.

As much as we’d love to support that decision it does ignore the fact that many pupils around the country do not have internet access or internet access suitable for things such as joining a Zoom call or watching pre-recorded videos of lessons.

The latest union to join the call for the closing of schools, is the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa (Naptosa).

Following a meeting with its National Standing Committee on Tuesday evening the organisation has called on government to protect the physical and mental health of not only teacher and pupils but educational support staff, parents and others.

“It is clear that the time to read the signs is here. The NSC agonised over the situation and the wisdom of keeping schools open in the face of the current projections that indicate that provinces will reach the peak of infections at different times between the end of July and late September,” said executive director at Naptosa, Basil Manuel in a statement sent to Times Live.

The director highlighted that schools being forced to close following teachers or pupils testing positive are now an almost daily occurrence.

So what can be done?

Earlier this month Kenya said that it would suspend schooling until 2021. The Kenyan Education Minister, George Magoha reportedly said that, “the 2020 school calendar year will be considered lost due to COVID-19 restrictions.”

Could South Africa opt for a similar route?

Answering that question is not that simple.

As the Democratic Alliance pointed out in its response to Sadtu on Tuesday, “Many learners and teachers simply do not have access to the relevant internet or technological resources to make distance learning a success. Millions of learners will once again face imminent hunger as they depend on their school feeding schemes for daily meals. In addition to this, schools and Education Departments have forked out millions to procure Covid-19 essentials. Should schools close for the foreseeable future, this expenditure would have been in vain.”

The DBE also responded to Sadtu’s calls on Tuesday.

The department said that during levels 5 and 4 of lockdown, pupils and rural and remote areas of the country were unable to access online teaching in any form

“We have repeatedly reported that countries of the world directly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, have responded differently to the pandemic,” the department said.

“Some have completely reopened their schools, some have partially reopened their schools; some even reopened and closed their schools when the realities pertaining to the pandemic forced them to do so. South Africa is definitely no different from international practices,” it added.

The DBE also noted that since schools have reopened, feeding schemes have resumed and these are vital for many learners.

During lockdown we saw parents pleading with government to reopen schools so that things like feeding schemes could resume.

Rarely do we see government and opposition parties agree on something but it appears as if the DA and the DBE are thinking along the same lines.

As of 14th July South Africa has identified a total of 298 292 positive COVID-19 cases and 4 346 people have died as a result of the disease.

[Image – CC 0 Pixabay]
Brendyn Lotz writes news, reviews, and opinion pieces for Hypertext. His interests include SMEs, innovation on the African continent, cybersecurity, blockchain, games, geek culture and YouTube.