19 July 2020
This week, Jonathan Jansen made a profound statement when he declared that the closure or opening of schools does not depend on the Department of Education or society, the COVID-19 virus will determine it. COVID-19 will close the schools as we are witnessing currently. Concerned parents and communities are standing up as the virus is flexing its muscle.
It was Jansen again, whom two months ago suggested that we need to find solutions – he suggested that we should let every child go to the next grade next year, then we use the first three months to revise the previous grade’s work before continuing with the year plan. Maybe we did not find this plausible for it was never discussed. Of course, COVID-19 will be the one that determines that sense of normality we hope for.
The virus continues to flummox us every hour as the numbers of the affected are rising. Initially, we thought it was not airborne, and then 239 scientists from 32 countries came forward to dispel that truth. Then later on, we heard that children were unlikely to be infected or transmit it, but this week the South African Medical Research Council informed us that children could be infected and transmit it.
These come at a time when the surge is on the country, with hundreds getting infected each day. Parents still ask incessant questions whose answers are not forthcoming. The
COVID-19 curse continues to place schools in a sad state of uncertainty. Schools have become zones of fear and ambiguity. Teachers are also hesitant and their unions have repeatedly demanded the safety of their members as top priority.
Since the beginning of this month, schools have been turfs of quandary. Learners can neither guess their future as the COVID-19 anathema portends a blurry future and there will be many consequences, as some may never want to go back to class. However, as parents we continue to hope against hope.
The past two weeks have been eventful as citizens decided to take the law in their hands. This includes teachers unions and learners organisations. In Eldorado Park, Gauteng, parents decided to close down schools because they fear for their children and their communities. The Congress of South African Students in Limpopo closed down about 50 schools.
In the Eastern Cape, various communities have closed several schools for lack of resources to combat COVID-19. Several teachers with comorbidities have stopped going to work while others unwillingly go. It makes sense when one thinks of the brutal nature of the virus we are facing.
The schools had just opened a few days when a sad incident struck one school. In Donnybrook, KwaZulu-Natal, a pupil arrived at school only to find that she had left her face mask at home. She had to return home to fetch it as demanded by COVID-19 circumstances. On her way back the young girl was raped by a 17-year-old. It is a worst nightmare for any family and school staff.
One is concerned over various stories from several role players. Some teachers have intimated how they are forced even with comorbidities to attend school.
It is solutions we need so urgently now. Some were suggesting the stretching of this school year into 2021 and then reducing school holidays. COVID-19 may deny us that opportunity though because of the impending surge.
The department is trying its best under the circumstances. Unfortunately, COVID-19 will have the final word.
- Prof Msila works at Unisa’s department of leadership and transformation. He writes in his personal capacity.