Why reopen schools? Because school is good for children: Motshekga

19 May 2020 - 19:40 By Matthew Savides
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Basic education minister Angie Motshekga announced that grade 7 and 12 pupils will return to classrooms on June 1 2020 while teachers will return to schools on May 25. Motshekga assured the public that the government would be implementing safety measures to prevent the potential spread of the coronavirus in reopened schools.

The longer schools stay closed, the higher the risk that pupils might never go back.

This is according to basic education minister Angie Motshekga, who was answering the question “why reopen schools?” at a press briefing on Tuesday evening.

She had earlier said that matric and grade 7 pupils would go back from June 1, with the rest of the school year to be gazetted “soon”.

“I think all adults would say that schools are good for children. That's the bottom line: schools are good for children,” said Motshekga.

“If you go to the township now, go to Soweto — kids being kids, as early as 9am they are playing in the streets. So if we're worried about distancing, kids are kids [and] have to play.

“For the past four months, kids have been growing up without structure. Schools give them a structure: they wake up in the morning, wash, get taught for two or three hours, are fed, and go home with lots of homework. That’s what is good for children.”

Quoting from Unicef's framework for reopening schools, Motshekga further outlined the reasons for the reopening of schools.

“It says: 'Disruptions to instructional time in the classroom can have a severe impact on a child's ability to learn. The longer marginalised children are out of school, the less likely they are to return.'

“We have history around that. In 2010 when there was this long teachers’ strike, [many] of our learners, especially teenagers, didn't come back,” added Motshekga.

Returning to the Unicef document, she continued: “Children from the poorest households are already almost five times more likely to be out of primary school than those from the richest. Being out of school also increases the risk of teenage pregnancy, sexual exploitation, child marriage, violence and other threats. Further, prolonged closures disrupt the essential school-based services.”

Referring to the South African context, she added: “We've not been able to provide food, and all other medical [services] like vaccinations, because kids were at home.”

Going back to the Unicef document, she went on: “It disrupts essential school-based services, such as immunisation, school feeding, and mental health and psychosocial support — and can cause stress and anxiety due to the loss of peer interaction and disrupted routines.”

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