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Western Cape's Debbie Schäfer: kids are safer at school so let them learn

21 July 2020 - 17:20 By Aron Hyman
Teacher unions are demanding that all schools close but the DA's Debbie Schäfer says parents who demand that other people’s children stay at home demonstrate questionable motives. Stock image.
Teacher unions are demanding that all schools close but the DA's Debbie Schäfer says parents who demand that other people’s children stay at home demonstrate questionable motives. Stock image.
Image: paylessimages / 123RF

Covid-19 infections among school staff in the Western Cape are dropping, education MEC Debbie Schäfer said on Tuesday.

Schäfer said schools did not pose a higher risk for infection than any other places, and pleaded that they should not be closed again, saying this would be detrimental to the school year and the economy.

Five teacher unions have demanded that schools be closed until the end of August, when it is estimated SA will have reached its peak infection rate.

Schäfer said as of last week, there were 333 active Covid-19 cases among Western Cape education department (WCED) staff, equivalent to 0.8% of its complement. She said 379 pupils had tested positive since June 1, when the first grades returned to class.

“This amounts to 0.1% of learners in the grades that have returned to class, and many of these children have already recovered. No deaths of pupils have been reported to the WCED,” she said.

“These numbers accord with the advice received from health experts that children in general are less likely to get or spread Covid-19, and that they are less likely to get seriously ill from it.”

The total number of infected staff since the first case was reported on March 22 was 1,920, including cases reported before schools reopened. Twenty-one teachers and nine non-teaching staff had died.

“We offer our deepest condolences to their families, friends and colleagues in this difficult time. It is especially difficult when health restrictions limit our ability to mourn together,” said Schäfer.

She said the teachers who died accounted for 0.84% of those who died of the disease in the province, and about 0.07% of the teacher cohort. Some 1,557 staff members had recovered.

Schäfer said there was no evidence of mass spreading of the coronavirus at schools, and she questioned why certain industries were opened while there were calls for schools to close.

“What we are not seeing is evidence that staff or pupils are at greater risk of acquiring Covid-19 at school than elsewhere,” she said.

SA's top matriculant from the class of 2019, Madelein Dippenaar, with MEC Debbie Schafer, who questions why schools are targeted for closure while shops, banks and many other businesses stay open.
SA's top matriculant from the class of 2019, Madelein Dippenaar, with MEC Debbie Schafer, who questions why schools are targeted for closure while shops, banks and many other businesses stay open.
Image: Esa Alexander

“In fact, organisations that have been monitoring our schools have commented that pupils practise better physical distancing and hygiene measures at school than they do outside in the surrounding community, where they may be unsupervised as parents are at work.

“Yet, schooling specifically has been targeted for closure. Why are other services – such as supermarkets, banks, cleaning services, government offices, and many others that have reported cases and had to close temporarily for cleaning – considered essential, while education is being considered a ‘nice to have’ and that we can ‘sacrifice the year’ in education?

“Surely it cannot be that our country places a lower value on education when the impact of the education gap is evident in our daily lives, and the gaps in education will have a direct impact on our economy?”

She said schooling was fundamentally important to a child’s health, food security, future earnings and safety.

“The negative consequences only compound the longer schools are closed,” she said, adding that parents demanding that other people’s children stay at home “demonstrate questionable motives”.

She said it was unrealistic to expect e-learning devices and internet access to be quickly rolled out to children who didn’t have them.

“It is something that requires a huge amount of money, which is not available, as well as detailed planning, which takes a lot of time.”


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