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Over 500 000 Learners Left In The Dark As SA’s Schools Reopen

Reporting by NYAKALLO TEFU, SANDILE MOTHA, SHALATI NKHWASHU and MASHUDU SADIKE

MORE THAN 520 000 learners in South Africa were unable to go to school on Monday June 8 due to severe shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE), clean running water, cloth masks, soap and chlorine-based disinfectants.

This comes after Basic Education’s Director General Mathanzima Hubert Mweli said that only 95% schools were ready to accept learners after receiving personal protective equipment (PPE) and deemed to have met COVID-19 health standards

The Congress of the South African Student led the charge on Monday, saying the students’ movement was extremely distressed and outraged that hundreds of thousands of learners were left in the dark, adding that they will unfortunately find it difficult to catch up with the 2020 School Curriculum.

“The reality is that not all schools are ready to receive learners. We are concerned that the Department of Basic Education is not treating all schools equally. There are schools that have all their necessary measures put in place but there are also schools that don’t have proper water and sanitation, and those schools are mostly in rural areas,” said COSAS provincial leader Ntobeko Ndlovu.

“Schools that are in towns have all their safety measures in place. Schools with no water and sanitation are our biggest concern. Those that don’t have transport and have children who travel long distances to get to school … We are not happy that other schools have been excluded. All schools must be ready at the same time. We do support the reopening of schools but this must be done at the same time so no learner is left behind when completing the syllabus.”

School learners at Bovet Primary School in Alexandra, Johannesburg

In Gauteng, the provincial Department of Education said it recorded 85% attendance of learners and educators while only 11 schools were deemed not to be ready to open.

The remaining schools, according to departmental spokesperson Steve Mabona did not open mainly due to infrastructure issues, which are currently being addressed.

“Any issues at our schools which in any way would impact on the safety of our staff and learners are being managed. We are using alternative measures including temporary relocation of learners to neighbouring schools where we cannot immediately resolve the challenges,” said Mabona.

“We had several incidents of break-ins and vandalism over the weekend including up to last night. This has impacted on the PPEs, Including scanners for screening, and other resources we had allocated to schools accordingly.”

Mabona said Gauteng has recorded 39 COVID-19 positive cases from 38 schools.

In KwaZulu Natal, school governing body members prevented learner and teachers from entering school premises, saying they were excluded from the planning and the strategy to reopen schools for learning and teaching on Monday.

In King Cetshwayo district, three schools couldn’t open following shutdown as SGB’s protested outside.

One of the affected schools in the district was the Iswelihle Secondary, a school located in the rural village of Enseleni, near Richards Bay.

According to chairperson of the school governing body, Mntomuhle Msomi, the SGB decided to protest outside the school after being ignored by the provincial department of education.

“We are concerned because the school has no sanitizers or protective equipment and there is no plan and strategy on how this will be executed. Our concern is the safety of pupils because teachers have money and they can buy their own safety gear. But parents cannot afford,” said Msomi.

While several schools in KwaZulu -Natal commenced with the 2020 academic programme following the outbreak of COVID-19, more than 100 schools in the province remain shut.

The number includes those that were vandalised, had no access to water and adequate sanitation.

Rural and far-flung district municipalities such as Zululand, uMkhanyakude and UGu remain severely affected by the lack of health and safety requirements.

The South African Democratic Teachers Union’s provincial secretary Nomarashiya Caluza said the teacher union anticipated that this would happen.

“If we continue at this pace, it means many pupils would be left behind on the curriculum. The department said some schools will be supplied with mobile classrooms, but the big problem here is the provision of water and sanitation,” Caluza told Inside Education.

At 2.8 million, KwaZulu Natal has the highest number of pupils enrolled in its education system.

National Teachers Union president Allen Thompson said they had instructed their union members to stay away from schools that had not observed safety precautions.

“We told our members to boycott schools where health and safety regulations have not been observed. These include failure to provide PPEs and sanitizers. These are what we call non-negotiables,” said Thompson.

The reopening of schools in KwaZulu Natal takes place against the backdrop of the mysterious disappearance of a consignment of PPE.

The equipment apparently disappeared en route to circuit offices and schools.

“The disappearance of these PPE makes the preparations for the reopening in schools an elusive goal. Their replacement of these PPE will cost the department millions of rand, the money of which the department does not have,” said KwaZulu Natal MEC for Education Kwazi Mshengu.

Mshengu announced on Sunday that the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) had also been roped in to assist with water supply to far-flung schools.

Mshengu confirmed this week that the PPE has since been recovered after his department an investigation.

Learners practice social distancing at Bovet Primary School in Alexandra, Johannesburg

In Limpopo, learning and teaching got off to a slow start on Monday, with the Saviour Association of School Governing Bodies(SASGB) maintaining that the province was not ready to resume with schooling.

“We say schools should have not been opened as yet because we are not ready because water tanks and mobile toilets are not delivered at some schools and people are not trained as yet,” said Caiphus Mashutla, chairperson of the SASGB.

One parent, George Mashele, said he and his family were deeply concerned about the safety of learners at unsafe schools.

“We can’t put on hold the future of our children but yes, we are scared of the pandemic. We are avoiding a generation of uneducated children by allowing our children to go back to the classroom in the midst of the pandemic, we also love them,” he said.

The MEC of Economic Development in Limpopo, Thabo Mokone, who had been visiting the schools to lend support as part of the provincial command council, said that government would engage parents of learners that were not present at school on Monday.

“Obviously parents and children are still anxious but we are just bringing confidence to them that everything is on track. Some will start coming along as time goes,” said Mokone.

In the Western Cape, provincial Department of Education spokesperson Bronagh Hammond said a total of 11 Western Cape schools were closed on Friday due to COVID-19 concerns, but were expected to reopen this week.

“Last week 55 schools reported new employee cases of COVID-19. This affected 66 employees. In each case, the necessary cleaning must take place,” said Hammond.

“Whenever an employee or learner tests positive or is exposed to someone who has tested positive, the necessary protocols are followed. These protocols can be found in WCED Guideline L: Managing Covid-19 cases in schools. Schools have been provided guidelines on cleaning, as well as, what to do when there is a positive case of Covid-19 in a school or if someone has been in contact with a positive case of Covid-19.”

Hammond said R61 million in security costs was provided to 470 schools – up until 11 May 2020.

“As of the same time there had been 100 incidents reported incidents of burglary and vandalism since the school holiday period began on 20 March 2020,” said Hammond.  

“The majority have been in the Cape Winelands District, followed by the Metro Central and West Coast District. Many of the items stolen are those that are outside of the school building but within the perimeter of the school such as fencing and garden tools or sporting equipment. Other items include electricity cables, computer equipment, security gates and kitchen equipment. Costs of all damages are still to be determined, but they are certainly adding.”

 (Compiled by Inside Education staff)

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