Department of basic education claps back at school opening criticism

15 July 2020 - 11:35 By Unathi Nkanjeni
Spokesperson for the department of basic education Elijah Mhlanga said the department was not convinced of the argument to roll up and close the school year.
Spokesperson for the department of basic education Elijah Mhlanga said the department was not convinced of the argument to roll up and close the school year.
Image: Twitter/ElijahMhlanga

The department of basic education has, in an open letter, hit back at criticism over the reopening of schools.

In the past few months, the department has been at the receiving end of criticism from parents, unions and politicians since announcing that schools would reopen during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The latest criticism came from Prof Jonathan Jansen, who concluded that the school year was pretty much over as a result of coronavirus.

Jansen said the lives of children are filled with enough stresses and the on-again-off-again scheduling of the reopening of schools was not helping. He also said basic education minister Angie Motshekga could not dictate academic terms to a virus.

“Teachers have died. Principals have been on ventilators. Children have been infected. Non-teaching staff have become seriously ill. In response, schools opened and closed and opened again, causing huge disruptions to the timetable.”

'Crafty wordsmith'

Responding to the criticisms, basic education spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said the criticisms of the department and Motshekga were employed by a “crafty wordsmith to drive home a point that seeks to turn public sentiment against a hard-working minister committed to finding effective solutions”.

“The minister is encompassing solutions to not only salvage the academic year, which is not a crime by the way, but to also keep access open for the poorest of the poor in far-flung communities of the republic who need an open classroom if they are to take aim at a possible future free of ignorance and poverty,” said Mhlanga in the letter.

Carefully considered process

Mhlanga said the department was not convinced of the argument to roll up and close the school year and it will never tire of explaining its approach to reopening schools.

"[The approach] is a result of a carefully considered process listening to many different views from our stakeholders and respectfully paying attention to the fears and anxieties of parents and learners themselves,” Mhlanga said.

“We have also listened to science and medical experts who pay careful attention to the evolution of Covid-19 and its implications on education policy and practice. At the same time an impression must not be created that we are trying to save the academic year at the expense of lives.

“The South African government is allowing various sectors to gradually resume activities to maintain the balance between saving lives and livelihood, needless to say, that the provision of basic education is part of livelihood,” he added.

On Tuesday, the South African Democratic Teachers' Union (Sadtu) resolved that schools should stay closed until the end of the peak.

TimesLIVE reported that the union's Mugwena Maluleke said the “organisation cannot continue to send messages of condolences to families” after teachers die from Covid-19 related complications.

Maluleke said the suspension of classes during the pandemic peak would afford the department more time to implement alternative measures to allow for teaching and learning to take place.

The department encouraged critics, including Jansen, to listen to the findings of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco), on the negative impact an extended school lockdown potentially has on the prospects of pupils in poor communities.

“Dr Nic Spaull and Prof Martin Gustafsson, among others, spend time studying the potential impact of the pandemic on our school system, and they have reached different conclusions to those espoused by Prof Jansen ... By the way, we are not aware of any work produced by him on the impact of Covid-19 on schooling, except for his tabloid snippets,” said Mhlanga.


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