19 July 2020
The call by education unions for the suspension of schooling is not, contrary to popular belief elsewhere, to be dismissed with undue consideration by authorities.
It is perfectly natural for our leaders to hold on to the idea that they are in charge. But this must never cost us lives.
The rate of infections and the rate at which schools are being shut down for decontamination tell a story of a virus usurping power right from the grip of education authorities.
We certainly hope that by the time Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga smells the coffee, and the unions tell her “we told you so”, it will not be too late to save lives.
Part of the reasoning used when reopening the schools included a widely held consideration that children have better immunity and will neither die nor constitute deadly carriers of the novel virus.
This, unfortunately, has come undone, with the World Health Organisation and statistics in Gauteng showing children were also dying of the virus.
While the rate of children succumbing to the virus will inevitably be low, the greatest threat is how they, in turn, could threaten most of the grannies who invariably look after children while the parents are at work.
The champions of saving the academic year, including the DA and some sections of the middle class, are focused on narrow class interests. They prefer schools not to be shut, ostensibly because they have greater access to home schooling and online classes than children from poor households.
The virus has already shown us how inequality makes the poor disproportionately vulnerable.
The state, however, has a responsibility to all, more so to the weak and disadvantaged in society.
And sadly, the taxi industry stands as an example of how those without access to private transport are packed in minibuses like sardines, at 100% capacity, with concurrence from the government, at a time when the Coronavirus is at its most virulent. This is shameful.
While this has proven that the government listens more to the rogues among us, we hope that the education unions will not have to engage in criminality before they are listened to.
Statistics released by Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi in Gauteng on Friday show that only 23% of the province’s grade Rs, 53% of grade 6s, 58% of grade 7s and 61% of grade 11s have returned to school.
The parents are taking a decision that Motshekga is valiantly refusing to take by withdrawing their children. It is true that the government has given parents the option not to send their children to school, but that is far from doing what a leader of society ought to do. About 154 out of a total of 2 131 schools have had to close for decontamination.
The truth is that schools are a major risk, not just for pupils and parents, but for society at large in the same way the taxis are.
The time to provide leadership is now.