Johannesburg – Covid-19 infections are rapidly rising in schools across the country, with many pupils and teachers testing positive since schools reopened at the end of July.
Parents and unions attribute the rise in cases to the reduced physical distancing suggested by the minister of basic education in order to ensure that all pupils are back in the classroom.
General secretary of the National Association of School Governing Bodies, Matakanye Matakanya said overcrowding at schools, especially primary schools, was a problem.
“It has created more challenges to avert the spread of Covid-19,” said Matakanya.
He said the association had been advocating for primary school pupils to be vaccinated. Last week, Ladybrand Public School in Free State was closed by the provincial health department after 87 pupils tested positive for Covid-19.
Provincial education spokesperson Howard Ndaba said the cases emanated from the community where the pupils lived.
“We are always advocating for safety measures and teach our people to adhere to Covid-19 protocols,” said Ndaba. He said 133 pupils and six teachers, including one screener, had tested positive in Free State schools in different regions.
Spokesperson for the national Department of Education Elijah Mhlanga said the Department of Health has reported that Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal were experiencing high Covid-19 infections and this naturally affected all other sectors, including schools.
“Covid-19 does not affect preliminary exams at all. Schools have been managing with measures put in place and it is not the first time schools run exams during Covid-19, so past experience is helpful. Teachers are vaccinated … our schools have enough resources to deal with the scourge of the pandemic.
“The minister made it crystal clear that schools were not forced to have all the learners back in school if they did not have the space to accommodate them. Schools decide whether to have all learners or not, as a result there are schools who are continuing with the rotation time-tabling,” said Mhlanga.
Reports released on Monday in Western Cape show that 1 516 positive cases for pupils have been detected, while 482 teachers tested positive for Covid-19 Western Cape department of education spokesperson Kerry Mauchline said pupils who missed exams as a result of Covid-19 would be considered absent for a valid reason – and their marks would be recalculated using their school based assessment so that they would not be penalised in any way. Limpopo department of education spokesperson Tidimalo Chuene said the number of recorded Covid-19 cases since the reopening of schools on July 26 sits at 426 pupils and 296 teachers.
“Learning was suspended at 87 schools to allow for deep cleaning after confirmed positive cases. Infections observed mirror the general trend in the province, with our Capricorn South and Waterberg districts mostly affected.” said Chuene.
South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) secretary in Free State Bricks Moloi said the department of education was to blame for what was happening at Ladybrand Public School and other schools in the province.
“It must also be noted that this is a societal issue. We need sports, choral music events and camping to be stopped because these gatherings are also super-spreaders of the virus. “Overcrowding is the problem in our schools,” said Moloi.
He accused the department of not providing masks and disinfection material. “There are so many schools in the province with Covid-19 cases, but due to the low number of cases discovered at those schools, the matter is swept under the carpet.”
Sadtu national spokesperson Nomusa Cembi said: “Most schools are battling to abide by the social-distancing rule, and it was clear that if the learners were to come back at once, the situation would worsen.
“The rise in Covid-19 crisis is linked to communities, and we urge people to vaccinate to protect themselves.”
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