With 98% of schools in Western Cape opened since last week, the province’s MEC says schools need to reopen in order to benefit learners – and a paediatrician agrees with her.
“Extended school closures have a negative effect on learners,” said Western Cape MEC for Education Debbie Schäfer on Thursday 11 June during a briefing about the reopening of schools in the province. The briefing was told that there are 98 confirmed Covid-19 cases among teachers in the province.
During Western Cape Premier Alan Winde’s weekly digital media briefing, Schäfer, her head of department, Brian Schreuder, and the chairperson of the South African Paediatric Association, Professor Mignon McCulloch, briefed the media and public virtually on the reopening of schools in the province.
Grade 7 and Grade 12 learners were due to return to class last week, following the extended Covid-19 lockdown, but that was delayed for one week by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga because some schools were not ready to reopen. Western Cape schools, on the other hand, opened on 1 June, ahead of the rest of the country. Explaining the decision, Schäfer said, “we simply felt it was unfair” for parents and teachers who had already made preparations for learners to return to school.
The MEC said 98% of schools in the province were open, but learner attendance was low and the “extended school closures have a negative effect on learners”.
McCulloch said she understood the anxiety parents feel about their children returning to school, but “children seem to be less affected”. There have been 1,787 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in people aged under 20 and five Covid-19 related deaths in the province, according to data shown at the briefing.
Children are feeling depressed because they are not seeing their friends, said McCulloch, but in addition, schools provided safety and food security to many learners.
“I think the children are going to get off more lightly than adults,” said McCulloch, adding that she thought school was the best place to be for children at the moment. But children should follow the basics, she said. These include:
- Wearing masks;
- Cleaning hands regularly, either through washing or using sanitiser; and
- Social distancing.
The golden rule is, if you’re feeling sick, don’t go to school, stay at home or seek medical attention
Departmental head Schreuder said it was especially important that matriculants return to school. Usually, at this time of the year, June examinations would take place, but these have been scrapped because of missed school days. Matriculants will now only write preliminary examinations in September, followed by final exams at the end of the year. Schreuder said there was “enough time for matrics to catch up, provided they don’t waste time”.
Schäfer told the briefing that 98 teachers in the province had tested positive for Covid-19 and 16 schools were closed at the moment, but this was changing on a “day to day adjustment”.
Later in the day, ANC spokesperson on education Muhammad Khalid Sayed wanted to pass a motion that the legislature “discuss the growing number of schools affected by the rampant spread of the coronavirus”, but this was denied. DM
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