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6 Million Learners Expected In Schools During Second Phase-in Amid COVID-19 fears

NYAKALLO TEFU

ABOUT 6 million learners are expected back at school on July 6 amid concerns by parents who fear the worst following the surge in COVID-19 cases across the country.

Since the reopening almost two weeks, which only saw only Grade 7 and Grade 12 returning, at least 775 schools have been affected by COVID-19 infections.

A total of 523 learners have contracted the virus while a staggering 1 200 staff members tested positive. This comes as the Department of Basic Education plans to allow the return of even more learners by Monday.

However, the return of more learners to school has raised serious questions and parents, teachers’ unions and school governing bodies (SGBs) are concerned about the safety of children as COVID-19 cases rise.

Basic Education said it was doing what it can to ensure measures are taken to keep learners safe from the virus. “We have been doing a lot of work to prepare for the next cohort of learners that are coming back on the 6th of July. It’s a large number. It’s about six million of them who are coming back. Provinces have been focusing on the preparations,” said Elijah Mhlanga.

Inside Education takes a closer look at provinces considered epicentres of the deadly coronavirus to assess the situation.

THE EASTERN CAPE PROVINCE|

The situation in the Eastern Cape is dire after 204 learners and hostel assistants tested positive at the Makaula Secondary School in KwaBhaca, formerly known as Mount Frere.

A team of clinicians and other primary healthcare workers have already been sent to the school to prevent further spread of the virus.

As of Monday, the Eastern Cape had 23,658 confirmed cases of the coronavirus.

The MEC for Education Fundile Gade said government was concerned by the infections at various schools in the province.

“Certainly, the province is highly concerned with the outbreak of infections at our schools that has let to closure of over 150 schools for decontamination,” said Gade on Monday.
“An instruction has been issued to all our 12 districts to provide an assessment about all our schools’ readiness to accept additional grades as of the 6 July. Obviously there’s a concern with our bigger schools and how additional learners will impact our capacity to social distance and retain COVID-19 health and safety protocols.”  

KWAZULU NATAL PROVINCE|

The province has so far recorded an increase in the number of positive Covid-19 cases in schools, according to Premier Sihle Zikalala, who also said the number of infected people in schools increased to 187 last week, of whom 139 were teachers and 37 pupils. Thus far, at least 63 schools in KwaZulu Natal have reported positive Covid-19 cases across nine districts.

Dr Vusumuzi Nzama, head of the provincial department of education, said preparations were underway to receive learners across the province.

“When we prepared the schools for the reopening, we made it a point that all schools are sanitized and made ready for at least 6 months. So schools are already prepared. There is enough space for learners who will be returning on July 6 and teachers have already been trained. They have already been given full orientation,” said Nzama.

Nzama said the biggest concern for the department was lack adequate funding to deal with the COVID-19 challenge.  

“We do not have adequate funds to sustain what we have already provided to schools. We are currently coping, but we see that as time goes on, we are going to have a problem with supplying schools with COVID-19 essentials. The matter is being dealt with by the provincial treasury.  However, there hasn’t been any positive response,” he said.

GAUTENG PROVINCE|

According to the Department of Health, Gauteng is preparing for the worst of the coronavirus cases in the coming weeks.

Despite being one of the hardest hit provinces with over 31 000 confirmed cases, the Gauteng Education Department said most primary and secondary schools will be able to operate as more pupils prepare to go back to class in July.

The department said while its aware of the rapid rise in COVID-19 cases in the province, it will also continue to monitor pupils’ return to school and implement all necessary measure to ensure all institutions are compliant.

“We are ready to receive the other learners. That is all the grades in Gauteng. We’ll be doing a rotational process and learners will be rotating with some coming two days a week, some coming three days. That’s how we’re going to be managing it in Gauteng,” according to spokesperson, Steve Mabona.

The total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Gauteng as at 28 June 2020 sits at 36 895, with 9738 recoveries and 174 deaths.

Out of a total of 28 317 contacts traced (these are individuals who were in contact with people who tested positive for COVID-19); 18 087 people have completed the 14 days monitoring period with no symptoms reported and therefore they are de-isolated.

A total number of 1332 of people are currently hospitalized in the public and private facility.

The Gauteng Education Department has urged all schools to adhere to COVID-19 protocols as more grades re expected to return.

THE WESTERN CAPE PROVINCE|

Since the reopening of schools in June, 134 of learners have tested positive for COVID-19. According to the Western Cape Education Department’s latest reports received this past Friday, 557 school staff members have contracted the coronavirus. This number includes educators and non-teaching staff. Western Cape Education Department’s spokesperson Kerry Mauchline said Gauteng has the highest number of active cases – “so considering the Western Cape as the ‘epicentre’ would not be correct.”

“It is important to note that as the extra grades return, not all of those learners will be at school at any given time. In order to maintain the 1.5m physical distance between learners, schools have been asked to submit Temporary Revised Education Plans on how to manage this. The majority of our schools have already submitted these, with some of the models chosen including having grades at school on alternating weeks, or alternating days, or in shifts,” said Mauchline.

Mauchline said on average, 25 schools out of 1 509 are closed in the Western Cape on any given day. However, this includes those which are not closed due to cleaning after a positive case, but also where schools are closed due to threats from protestors and for other reasons.  “Every day, nearly 1 500 of our schools are going about the daily essential task of educating learners without disruption, and the majority have not reported any cases of Covid-19. So we must see positive cases at schools within this greater context,” she said.

“A confirmed case does not necessarily require a school to be closed. In each case, a number of factors will be considered in making the decision.”

As of 1pm on Monday 29 June, the Western Cape has 16 550 active cases of Covid-19, with a total of 61 445 confirmed cases and 43 120 recoveries. The Western Cape has recorded an additional 38 deaths, bringing the total number of Covid-19 related deaths in the province to 1775.

(Compiled by Inside Education staff)

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