Lack of communication, information, and clear guidelines from the Department of Basic Education have left parents concerned about sending their children back to school on 27 January 2020, as South Africa is firmly in the grip of a second wave of Covid-19 infections.
In President Cyril Ramaphosa’s address on Monday, he said the department was set to meet with the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) on Tuesday for further discussions around the opening of schools.
In a report on Monday, department director-general, Mathanzima Mweli said its risk adjustment strategy would allow for most schools to be fully operational at level 3.
Referring to the Department of Health’s latest findings, which included looking at global developments around schooling and the coronavirus, he said the report showed the impact (of going back to school) did not have a significant impact in terms of mortality rates, even for learners.
Findings from round three of the UJ/HSRC Covid-19 Democracy survey, undertaken by the University of Johannesburg and the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), demonstrated the following;
- 53% of adults think schools should remain closed until the situation improves.
- 19% of adults believe that schools should reopen for grade 7 and grade 12 learners only.
- 19% of adults think schools should reopen for all grades
- 9% of adults “don’t know”.
These findings come from the latest survey, which was conducted between 30 December 2020 and 6 January 2021 and was completed by 10,618 participants.
The survey was conducted online using social media adverts to direct potential participants to the survey and through the popular datafree Moya Messenger app, which has two million active users.
Where’s the leadership?
Melanie Ramjee, a mother of three children – two of whom are in public school and one in a private creche – explains: “I am truly very distraught for my two boys. We have had no communications from the schools whatsoever. I don’t know where our minister of education [Angie Motshekga] is. She is meant to lead the department and teachers. I don’t know what is happening.”
This is a sentiment shared by many parents, as the last official communication from Motshekga was four weeks ago, when addressing media on 17 December, 2020, where she said: “The disruptions of 2020 will need even a longer time frame to address. We have a three-year curriculum recovery plan. From 2021, we will be implementing the recovery actual teaching plan, in grades 1 to 12.”
A question of privilege?
Despite the results of the survey, which addressed the type of living conditions which impacted people’s views on the reopening of schools, namely those living in backyard shacks or rooms in townships, most were strongly opposed to the reopening of schools, 56%, compared to only 44% of those who live in a suburban house.
Parents’ concerns remain the same: “I battled with the decision, I consulted clinicians, paediatricians, scientific literature, psychologists, other moms and eventually made the decision to take my little one back”, says Mantha Makume, who has one child in primary school.
“This is a personal choice, and not one to be enforced on others. I also can’t discount the privilege of having access to foremost specialists as well as being an infectious disease specialist myself. With all the consulting and searching for answers, it still did not make the mommy in me take anything lightly. It’s a tough spot to be in, especially on behalf of our precious little humans.
Big school vs small school, private vs public
Xanél Pieterse, whose children will be entering grades 3 and 6 this year at Ohrigstad Primary School, added: “I am lucky that our school is small so I know that it’s safer than the bigger schools. Sanitising is very strict at our school. That’s the only reason why I feel comfortable sending my kids to school during the second wave. A bigger school makes me more nervous, but I would have also send them back even then. Taking the necessary precautions to keep them safe from contracting the virus is very important.”
Another parent, Farah Fortune, whose child, 15, suffers from asthma and goes to a school which offers online learning, said: “It’s so hard for parents of children who do not have access to the facilities offered at private schools, but the Department of Basic Education needs to start looking at rolling out alternatives, even small learning centres could be an option. But we cannot get the fundamentals right so it’s very difficult to believe there’ll be alternatives.”
The findings from the survey show that the majority of adults oppose the reopening of schools while Covid-19 cases continue at their current high levels and also shows that this opposition is strongest amongst the most vulnerable and economically disadvantaged sections of society, who are less likely to have confidence in the ability of their schools to provide a safe environment for learners, concluded the report.