PRESSURE is mounting for Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga to review her decision to reopen schools after 150 of them were closed owing to COVID-19 infections.
The Progressive Student Movement (PSM) will march to the Union Buildings in Pretoria on Tuesday to demand the immediate resignation of Motshekga.
The organization has criticised the South African education system, saying it does not cater for learners in poor communities.
“The current scourge has exposed her indecisiveness and leadership skills and more importantly her ability to be innovative in terms of problem solving,” said the PSM in a statement on Monday.
“In addition to the statement we would also like to propose the closure of schools thus to avoid the school becoming “Super Spreaders” or to spread like wildfire. This is in line or rather instigated by the current outbreak of COVID-19 in schools and this substantiated our theory that in fact the department will find it difficult to contain the spread under their proposed set of directives.”
The Congress of the South African Students has also called for mass COVID-19 testing for teachers and students at affected schools, particularly in the Western Cape, the country’s epicentre of the disease.
The closure of schools happened in quick succession this week as a measure to contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus and it has so far affected over 500 000 learners and hundreds of teachers across the country.
In the Eastern Cape, 77 schools were closed after several teachers, pupils and supporting staff tested positive for COVID-19.
“As the first week of learning and teaching occurs, we wish to confirm that across the province we have 20 positive cases of COVID within the schooling system. We have 15 teachers, 3 learners and 2 non-teaching staff who have contracted COVID 19,” said Loyiso Pulumani, spokesperson for the Eastern Cape Department of Education.
“We also confirm that we have 48 persons under investigation in the province according to our statistics. By the end of the week the number of schools temporarily closed stood at 77 as a result of COVID 19.”
Pulumani said the department was investigating 48 other schools for possible cases of COVID-19 infections.
“Through our preparation and round-the-clock monitoring, we hope to keep it this way. We aim to save the academic year, while preserving lives,” said Pulumani.
In KwaZulu Natal, 28 teachers and five pupils tested positive for COVID-19, resulting in the closure of at least 28 schools.
“Of the 28 schools affected, 14 will reopen on June 15 after all safety protocols have been followed,” said KwaZulu Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala.
“We want to implore all the teachers, learners and other non-teaching staff to continue exercising caution, even when they are not within school premises.”
In Gauteng, 56 schools were forced to close after learners and teachers tested positive for the coronavirus.
Gauteng Premier David Makhura said since the reopening of schools, both learners’ and teachers’ attendance has been above the 85% mark.
In the Western Cape, 98 teachers have tested positive for COVID-19, resulting in the closure of 16 schools.
“The names of the schools and teachers will not be publicised because once word gets out, principals who are already busy, are swamped with questions and visits,” said Debbie Schafer, Western Capes’ MEC for Education.
In the North West, Department of Education’s spokesperson Elias Malindi said only one school has reported a case of COVID-19.
“So far teaching and learning has been going smoothly with no cases of the virus detected,” said Malindi.
Grade 7 and Grade 12 learners in the Northern Cape Province have also been affected by the reported COVID-19 cases.
The Northern Cape has 534 schools offering Grade 7 and 12 lessons.
Out of the 534 schools, a total of 515 schools opened their doors on June 8.
“The province opened with minor challenges. We have taken note of these challenges and we are working tirelessly to address these matters”, said the Northern Cape Department in a statement.
The department said since the reopening of schools on Monday, no cases of COVID-19 were reported, which means no schools were closed.
“We are also concerned about the malicious reporting from media houses and the public about the situation at schools. This is detracting the attention of the Department and the community from areas where minor challenges are experienced,” the department said in a statement.
The Limpopo Department of Education said two schools were shut down due to suspicion of COVID-19 cases.
The province has 3711 schools across 10 education districts.
“31 schools in the province are not open owing to water and sanitation problems. This number includes the 2 that have been closed due to suspicion of the coronavirus”, said department’s spokesperson’s Tidimalo Chuene.
Chuene said their curriculum team will package a catch-up program for learners who missed school due to infrastructure challenges.
“There is also the option of moving them to nearby school,” said Chuene.
In Mpumalanga three schools have also reported COVID-19 related cases.
“The two schools were closed after teachers tested positive. In one school the results of all the teachers who were tested came back negative and as such that school was given a clean bill of health to resume classes on Monday June 15,” said the Department of Education’s spokesperson Jasper Zwane.
Zwane said 95 % of schools reopened successfully and attendance by both Grade 7 and 12 Learners was recorded to be above 90%.
The department of education in the Free State said only two people – a learner and an administration clerk – tested positive for the coronavirus.
The affected schools were decontaminated and cleared.
PSM said it holds the Department of Basic Education accountable for allegedly exploiting learners from poor communities as they have not received any learning material such as text books and stationary.
According to organization, these learners are in Limpopo, Eastern Cape, KwaZulu Natal, Mpumalanga and the North West.
The movement has also accused the Education department of doing nothing about displaced learners in Gauteng, saying the department expected poor and illiterate parents to register their children online.
COSAS spokesperson Mphumzi Giwu said that the student body wanted all schools in the Western Cape to be shut down as infections were on the rise.
“We call on all learners to remain at home, all learners to boycott schools, all schools to be shut down simply because we are concerned by the rising number of infections from teachers, staff members and learners,” said Giwu.
(Compiled by Inside Education staff)