The ANC’s highest decision-making body between national conferences says it is closely monitoring preparations by the Department of Basic Education ahead of the proposed re-opening of schools, possibly in June.
The national executive committee (NEC) of the governing ANC took a resolution during a virtual meeting on Thursday, when it discussed among other things the local economy, impact of coronavirus on the poor and education matters under the topic, ‘Back to school in the time of COVID-19’.
The NEC said the issue of re-opening of schools amid coronavirus was unchartered terrain and presented a huge challenge to the South African government and others around the world.
It encouraged all sectors to work together, including Provincial Education Departments, District Offices, teachers union and associations, as well as school governing bodies and education NGOs and health professionals, to make preparations for the phased opening of schools.
“Unfortunately, we are all in a situation where decisions about health and education outcomes have to be made in the absence of a sufficient knowledge base,” said the NEC.
“This matter is unchartered terrain for all countries – Education and Health authorities must work together to find the correct balance and the different approaches adopted by different countries.”
The NEC said getting South African children back to school, and back to learning safely would require a high level of leadership and communication from the Department of Basic Education, strong interdepartmental cooperation, a concerted and a united societal effort.
“It will have to be done in a phased manner, aimed at protecting the health and education of our children and teachers, ensuring that it does not further marginalise learners from poor communities and households,” it said.
The NEC admitted that the challenge was exacerbated by the country’s huge schooling sector, which has over 13 million learners in 23,076 public and 1,922 independent schools; and over 400,000 teachers in public schools and 37,856 in independent schools.
All in all, public school sector accounts for over 95% of learners, 92% of schools and 91% of teachers.
The NEC said it supported the phased approach by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga for the re-opening of schools, starting with Grades 7 and 12, hopefully by June, and phasing in other grades.
The NEC said it noted the critical and fine balance between protecting learners and their families against the COVID-19 pandemic, and the need to advance the rights of all children to education.
It also agreed with the UNICEF, UNESCO and the World Food Programme in their Framework for Reopening Schools, which says that:
“Global school closures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic present an unprecedented risk to children’s education, protection and wellbeing…Disruptions to instructional time in the classroom can have a severe impact on a child’s ability to learn. The longer marginalized children are out of school, the less likely they are to return. Children from the poorest households are already almost five times more likely to be out of primary school than those from the richest. Further, prolonged closures disrupt essential school-based services such as immunization, school feeding, and mental health and psychosocial support…”
The NEC also came out in support of the guidelines on school sanitising, social distance and screening, the provision of basic sanitation and hygiene packages to all schools, safety in scholar transport and provision of emergency water supplies to schools with inadequate water.
Commenting on school vandalism of nearly 1 000 schools during the nationwide lockdown, the NEC said it was appalled by the vandalization of over 900 schools during the few weeks of the lockdown.
“Schools belong to communities and the nation, and it is therefore our responsibility to report these criminals to the police, so that they can be arrested and prosecuted,” the NEC said in a statement.
(Compiled by Inside Education staff)