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'People are sick. Our children must stay at home': Parents and pupils react to delayed opening of schools

Some parents worry about child care as they go back to work, and pupils fear further roadblocks on their education journey — but some welcome the decision

15 January 2021 - 15:34 By shonisani tshikalange
Matric pupils said the delayed reopening will add pressure to their academic year.
Matric pupils said the delayed reopening will add pressure to their academic year.
Image: Gallo Images/Darren Stewart

Parents and pupils have voiced their concerns about the basic education department’s decision to delay the reopening of schools due to the spread of Covid-19 infections across SA.

Matric pupils who haven’t started their final year said this would put more pressure on them when schools do reopen.

Deputy basic education minister Makgabo Reginah Mhaule announced on Friday that the reopening of schools would be pushed back by two weeks.

“Given the pressure experienced by the health system in the past few weeks, occasioned by increased Covid-19 infections which have led to the second wave, the council of education ministers (CEM) in conjunction with the national coronavirus command council and cabinet have  taken the decision to delay the reopening of both public and private schools by two weeks. This includes private schools that have already reopened,” she said.

“Who will look after my child because I no longer have leave days?” asked Khumbudzo Mahwasane, mother of a grade R pupil who was supposed to go back to school on January 25.

Mahwasane said the department’s decision had inconvenienced her as she now has to look for a carer for her child.

“I am stranded. I don’t know where I will leave my child when I go to work because when I took my leave days I had calculated I will go back to work when she goes back to school,” said Mahwasane, who has family in Limpopo.

“I don’t have money to drop her off in Limpopo and fetch her again in February. I have to ask a family member to look after her, and I will have to pay them, which is money I didn’t plan for.

“The [Covid-19 infection] numbers are rising, but the department should have said those who didn’t want their children to return to school must let them stay home. I have bought everything. I have paid school fees for January,” she said.

Sharon Ndlovu, a grade 12 pupil at a Pretoria school, said the pandemic was robbing her and her year mates of a fair chance to excel in their studies, like the matriculants in previous years.

“It won’t be fair to us because we are not given a fair chance to prove ourselves, and we have to use the results we get to apply for tertiary,” she said.

The 21-year-old said a postponement of the academic year means more pressure on her and her fellow matriculants when schools reopen.

“I don’t feel OK about this arrangement. It’s even worse because last year we hardly attended and studied. When we go back to school, it’s going to mean more pressure for us. They are going to be pressuring us and giving us too much to do in a small period of time,” she said.

However, Fatima Ndlovu, the parent of the grade 12 pupil, said the decision to postpone the opening of schools was good  because it meant saving the lives of pupils. The 47-year-old said going to school also put the lives of the pupils’ families at risk.

“People are sick. Our children must stay at home. When they go to school, they come back with Covid-19 and infect us at home — and we will all be sick. The reason they decided schools must open in February is because they see people are  sick. If all get sick, where will we be treated?” she said.

Peter Bokay, a matric pupil in Atteridgeville, said 2021 was going to be a challenging year.

“There will be more pressure. It will be challenging for us as we haven’t even started anything yet. But there is no choice because the department is trying to ensure the safety of all of us,” he said.

A parent of a grade 2 pupil, Maki Mushanganyisi, said she didn't understand why parents had to pay fees for January as pupils will be at home.

The 34-year-old said she doesn’t have a problem with the delayed reopening of schools, but fees should only be payable when children attend.

“I had to pay fees for close to five months last year while my child was not going to school. He was attending only two days in a week, from 8am to 12pm. It doesn’t make sense at all,” she said.