Carina Koen
3 minute read
22 Jul 2020
3:17 pm

Pressure mounts on govt as 60% of adults don’t want schools reopened

Carina Koen

Government will have to recognise the majority opinion on closing schools as it has been losing support during the Covid-19 pandemic, researchers say.

Miss Palesa Mahlwele speaks to pupils during the first day back at school at Wordsworth High School in Benoni, 8 June 2020. Picture: Neil McCartney

The results of a survey done by researchers from the University of Johannesburg (UJ) and the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) have been nothing less than startling, with 60.4% of adults not in favour of schools reopening in the current coronavirus climate.

This comes on the back of teachers’ unions demanding that schools close until the peak of the pandemic has passed – and Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga sticking to her guns that the academic year should be salvaged, and all children should return to school as soon as possible.

Government is due to make an announcement on the situation soon, and according to Professor Kate Alexander, South African Research Chair (SHARChi) in Social Change at UJ, it is clear that the majority of people in South Africa wants schools to close for all pupils.

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She pointed out that the survey’s findings will come as a blow to the government. “It may want to re-consider its present policy,” Alexander said.

“The government is losing support [amidst the Covid-19 pandemic], which it can’t afford in the current health crisis. People are very worried about the situation.”

The results of the survey are representative at a national level, having been weighted  by race, age and educational level. Confidence intervals have been calculated and are included in the table below.

Support for reopening of schools, by overall frequency:

Support for re-opening of schools, by individual income per month:

There are also some large differences when the findings are cross-tabulated with party allegiance, the researchers said. This is shown in the table below. DA supporters are more likely to agree with re-opening of schools for all grades, followed by the ANC and then the EFF. “This may reflect income differences among the parties’ potential voters. Nevertheless a majority from all three parties was opposed to schools re-opening.”

Judging by their responses to the survey, people now value lives over education.

“This is why government has to recognise the majority opinion on closing schools,” Alexander said.

Among the survey results were a few surprises, but more research is needed to clarify why respondents gave the answers they did. These include more men wanting to close schools than women (63% compared with 57%); and that more women with children were against schools reopening (63%) than women without children (42%).

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Earlier this week, teachers’ union Naptosa published the details of a meeting it held with the department of basic education.

It outlined a number of proposals, which were agreed to with other unions, around the closing of schools:

  • Schools should be closed with immediate effect to allow the peak and winter to pass. The system should use this time to attend to all outstanding issues, including, but not limited to, the provision of water, the building of toilets and additional classes and providing the required number of teachers;
  • Schools should reopen at the end of August 2020 unless the situation dictates otherwise;
  • Education departments should provide teachers with the necessary tools to work from home and prepare work for the reopening of schools and return of learners;
  • Grade 12s should be prioritised and different modes to assist them while they are at home should be investigated. Grade 12s should return on Monday, 17 August 2020;
  • The DBE and stakeholders should discuss the curriculum post this calendar year, focusing on reading for the remaining months of 2020;
  • The Department of Higher Education and Training should be engaged to consider late registration for first years in 2021;
  • All stakeholders should focus on advocacy campaigns, educating the nation about this invisible enemy but also urging them to follow all precautionary measures, including staying at home.

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