'I don’t have a choice, I just want to finish this year': Pupils grapple with returning to school

21 May 2020 - 07:00 By Shonisani Tshikalange
Although pupils are anxious about their health and transport to school they are happy that they will be able to complete their school year.
Although pupils are anxious about their health and transport to school they are happy that they will be able to complete their school year.
Image: 123RF/paylessimages

In 10 days' time, grade 7 and matric pupils will be back in their classrooms after a long coronavirus-induced break.

But while there is an understanding that schools needed to reopen at some point, many pupils are worried about their safety in class - and how they will get to school.

Grade 12 pupil Diebo Shayi told TimesLIVE on Wednesday that he was worried about how he would get to school because he uses the train, which is currently not operating. The 19-year-old, who lives in Sunnyside, Johannesburg, said: “Since the trains are not operating and I depend on them to get to school, I don’t think I will be able to make other arrangements because it is expensive. The train was cheap because we paid monthly. I just need money for transport since I will be struggling without the trains,” he said.

Shayi said he was not pleased with the reopening of schools at a time when the number of Covid-19 cases was increasing, but at the same time felt it was necessary so that pupils could catch up and achieve good results.

“I am not too pleased to be going to school when the virus is spreading at this rate. But I don’t have a choice, I just want to finish with this year.

“I am not really sure if we will cope with school work because we have been home for a long time. We just want to do our best, but I am sure many learners will fail.

"I think we can practise hygiene because we will have the school all to ourselves,” he said.

Shayi said he was worried about pupils infecting each other.

Tendani Nethengwe said that though she was worried about going back to school next month she hoped the government would keep its promises of providing hand sanitisers.

“I know it is not safe for us to go back to school, but the government said they will provide health products to keep us safe. I am happy that now I can go back to school and complete my year,” she said.

However, Nethengwe is worried about how the school will be able to implement social distancing and be able to teach them as there were not enough teachers.

“I do feel that we are not safe and I don’t know how they will teach us because we don’t have enough teachers. When it comes to toilets and the feeding scheme, I doubt that students will follow good hygiene measures because they are normally careless,” she said.

Nineteen-year-old Peter Bokay said he was afraid that going back to school would put his family in danger.

The grade 11 pupil, though not part of the group going back to school on June 1, said he was not sure how he would be getting to school when the time comes.

“I am not sure yet how I will manage to go back to school because my parents, who depend on their salon for salaries, are now not working. I take a train to school and normally when there are no trains it means I cannot go to school because I cannot afford another mode of transport,” he said.

Bokay said pupils would be exposed to danger.

“They have asked us to go back to school when the virus is spreading faster in the country. It means that we are now exposed to danger. If they can’t open the parliament where leaders are, what about us learners?

“If one person is infected, then it can spread to all of us. And we go back and infect our families at home. It’s like we don’t have a choice; we have to go back to school, so we must just be ready to die,” he said.

Bokay said staying at home has been hard as there was no help for him and his family.

“We haven’t even got any assistance, maybe it’s because we are foreign nationals. Our parents are now using their savings since there is no income coming in. When the savings run out I don’t know what will become of us and our parents,” he said.

James Jediael, who is in grade 11, said he was stressed about his schoolwork because some teachers were way behind with the curriculum. The 18-year-old said he was also not sure if pupils would be able to follow the rules, since they lacked discipline.

“We don’t get work like other learners from other schools. We are way behind. Looking at my school’s condition I don’t think we will be able to practise hygiene. With the way many learners at my school behave, they are not disciplined - but maybe if the government provides the necessary [sanitation] we can make it work,” he said.