Back to school? — 5 critics who have opposed reopening

16 July 2020 - 07:00 By Cebelihle Bhengu
Pressure is mounting on the government to keep schools closed until the Covid-19 pandemic peak has passed.
Pressure is mounting on the government to keep schools closed until the Covid-19 pandemic peak has passed.
Image: Thulani Mbele

The department of basic education is under pressure, as calls to halt schooling until the Covid-19 storm is over continue to gain momentum.

Civic organisations, politicians and educators have criticised the government, accusing it  of “disregarding the lives of teachers and pupils by insisting on the continuation of academic activities”.

On Tuesday, there were 298,292 identified cases of Covid-19 in SA and 4,346 deaths.

Here are five prominent critics of pupils heading back to school during the pandemic:

Eusa

On Monday, the Educators Union of SA accused President Cyril Ramaphosa of failing to acknowledge the impact of Covid-19 on teachers and pupils during his address to the nation on Sunday.

Union spokesperson Kabelo Mahlobongwane said teachers and pupils should picket outside schools premises every morning to pressure the president to close schools. He said the union refused to “stand idle” while teachers and pupils die from a “capitalist Covid-19 pandemic”.

He said the union was shocked by the deaths of seven pupils in Gauteng due to the coronavirus last week, adding that these deaths “were against what experts told us when the lockdown was declared”.

Naptosa

On Tuesday night, the National Professional Teachers' Organisation of South Africa (Naptosa) said it was concerned by the spike of Covid-19 cases nationwide. It called for schooling to be halted until after the pandemic’s peak, which is expected in September.

Naptosa executive director Basil Manuel said their national standing committee, after looking at information accessible to it, decided that schools must be closed until it is safe to resume. He said the union takes seriously the mental and physical wellness of teachers, pupils and parents — especially as the country approaches the predicted peak.

He said the union is not calling for the scrapping of the academic year, as doing so would be “irresponsible”.

Manuel said Naptosa is willing to meet basic education minister Angie Motshekga to discuss a plan that would be ready for implementation once the Covid-19 curve has been sufficiently flattened.

Jonathan Jansen

Prof Johnathan Jansen penned an open letter to Motshekga, urging her to scrape the 2020 academic year as it is now impossible to save it. He said the phased reopening of schools, which will see the last grades return to schools in August, does not give pupils enough time to finish the curriculum.

He argued that not much has been achieved with the grades that have reopened, as the regular closure and reopening of schools due to infections disrupts the timetable. He said this also affects attendance, as some parents decide not to let their children return after Covid-19 infections at school.

He said his main concern lies with the children from poor families, whose schools don’t have the resources to continue during closures using virtual lessons. He suggested that lessons be broadcast on TV and radio, which would allow the majority of learners to continue from home.

Julius Malema

After Motshekga's announcement in May that schools would reopen in June, the EFF leader said schools were not ready to reopen, citing concerns about water and sanitation at the time. He warned that teachers and pupils would die due to infections.

On Sunday, during president Cyril Ramaphosa's address, Malema took to Twitter and again asked the president to “think of our kids"and close schools.

Mmusi Maimane 

One SA Movement (Osam) leader Mmusi Maimane called for a school stay-away on Friday last week, saying not enough had been done to protect teachers, staff and pupils.

Maimane has been vocal on the reopening of schools since Motshekga's first announcement of the phased reopening in June. At the time, he launched an online petition, which was sent to President Ramaphosa with almost 200,000 signatories backing his call to close schools until later in the year.

Maimane and Osam escalated the call to the high court in Pretoria, where he lost his bid to have schools closed.


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