In his column on Times Select, former University of the Free State (UFS) vice-chancellor and rector Professor Jonathan Jansen raised concerns about how school closures would impact on the poorest the most.
His most incisive remark was: “The president was not speaking to the majority of South Africans when he made the necessary decision to close down education facilities. If he did, this question would have been addressed – what is the support system for poor and working parents if the schools of their children are suddenly closed?”
During his address on Sunday, President Cyril Ramaphosa declared coronavirus a “national disaster” and imposed a nationwide school shutdown, leaving parents to find alternative solutions to look after their children.
Some of these parents would be able to work from home while others could turn to family members such as grandparents and siblings for help to look after their children, but this is not the case for many poor South African parents, a majority in this country, he pointed out.
In his column, Jansen said: “Most SA children are working class and poor. When a school closes down for whatever reason there is immediate consternation for the parents. There is nobody at home to care for the child. ”
He pointed out that 8.8 million children in quintile 1-3 schools depended on a cooked meal for lunch every day.
During his address today, Ramaphosa appeared to recognise the problem: “Over the next month, millions of our learners will be out of school and at home. For many this will mean the loss of a nutritious meal or a place of safety during the day. Parents who work will worry about who will be taking care of their children, especially in communities experiencing high levels of crime.” But he did not offer any solutions for destitute parents living in informal settlements.
Notably Jansen talked about how easy infectious diseases can spread in informal settlements, citing TB as a perfect blueprint for the spread of infectious diseases: “There is precedent for this prediction – tuberculosis. Where TB spreads fastest is where people are cramped together in homes with poor ventilation among humans with compromised immune systems.”
Jansen offered the following solutions for managing the Covid-19 crisis:
- Do not require your domestic staff to come to work for you are putting them at risk with congested travel conditions.
- Then, paying your workers for this was the only way they could survive while remaining at home.
- What the government could do was help schools develop out-of-school learning opportunities for children of the poor. “Forget 4IR, it was and still is a distraction when it comes to basic literacy and numeracy for children of the poor. What kinds of basic material support can be given for children to learn from home? After all, there will be more epidemics that close down schools in the future.”