24 July 2021
Joint media statement: Crucial questions for Basic Education Minister Motshekga on the reopening of our schools
“I personally feel like I’m two-sided really. On the ground COVID-19 restrictions don’t really exist, so by learner’s going back to school, this puts them in danger of getting infected and passing it on to the elderly at home. The reason why I [feel] two-sided is because not going to school stops all the curriculum from being applied… We are given so much work and by the time exams come we are strained. Causing stress leading to failure. I prefer learning from home because currently that’s more productive. Teachers prioritize Grade 12s, [they] are given all the attention because they “represent” the school. So what’s the point of risking getting infected and we still don’t learn? They are giving us scoops so they have marks to submit but doesn’t that [defy] the purpose of school, teaching and learning? The disadvantage of learning from home… You don’t get to spend enough time studying due to the day to day things I need to do when I’m home. I’m expected to meet certain needs to help out at home when I’m around. This pushes back my learning.” – Yolanda, learner member of Equal Education, Gauteng
“I feel bad about going back to school because my school isn’t following COVID-19 measures, we only [use] sanitizer in the morning when we get to school and some classes have more than 50 learners. I think learning from home is going to help us so that we don’t get infected with Coronavirus. For me to feel safe I think they should [provide] sanitizer to us more than four [times] a day while we’re at school and we shouldn’t be more than 50 in one classroom.” – Betty, learner member of Equal Education, Limpopo
Equal Education (EE) and the Equal Education Law Centre (EELC) want to see our schools able to reopen safely, as quickly as possible. With all schools set to reopen this Monday, and primary school learners returning to school full time from 2 August 2021 for the first time in more than a year, it is more urgent than ever that government ensures that every school has the non-negotiables in place. That 517 000 teachers and other school staff have been vaccinated is an important step towards making schools safer during the pandemic. Well done to the education departments for this effort, which helps to protect school communities, and calm fears around the spread of COVID-19, while ensuring that teaching and learning can continue.
For those learners who are not yet able to return to school full time, we are overjoyed to have secured a court settlement last week that says government must make better and more realistic plans to ensure that every learner who qualifies for the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP) gets a meal, even on days when they are not at school.
Support for learners to return to school and to stay in school
Schools being closed for long periods of time because of COVID-19 has been very difficult for learners, parents and teachers. EE’s high school members, Equalisers, have repeatedly explained the very serious challenges and stress caused by having to learn at home – and research confirms that learners across the country have lost between 70% to a full year of learning. Schools are also places where learners socialise, can get support such as counselling, and get a daily meal – benefits that many learners have missed for big parts of 2020 and 2021. A recent NIDS-CRAM study shows that many learners, especially in grades 10 to 12, did not return to school at all this year. Worryingly, even at the primary school level, attendance of learners in grades 2, 5 and 7 have dropped. The study estimates that there are
500 000 more learners who are out of school since the beginning of the pandemic.
- It’s important that Minister Motshekga tells us today how the education departments will find these learners that have dropped out and support their return to school, and how the DBE will prevent more learners from dropping out when individual schools close or if schools close in a specific area, or if all schools close again.
The risk-adjusted strategy should be implemented
To help ensure that learners do not spend unnecessary time out of school, EE and the EELC have consistently appealed to the DBE and provincial education departments to implement the risk-adjusted strategy. It is disappointing that despite having this strategy, it is still not being used. Using the local COVID-19 infection rate as a marker for closing schools in a specific area, will allow teaching and learning to continue in areas where COVID-19 infection rate is low. At a meeting with civil society earlier this year, the DBE said that the risk-adjusted strategy is not being used, and there is currently no evidence that it is being used – and we don’t understand why.
- We again call for the effective implementation of a risk-adjusted strategy and that the Minister today clearly explain when and how it will be used, and how the DBE will support the provincial education departments with its implementation!
Safe school infrastructure that nurtures quality teaching and learning is a non-negotiable
Even though some progress has been made over the last year, DBE officials said in a meeting with civil society this week that some provinces (Eastern Cape, Limpopo and North West) are struggling to provide toilets for learners returning to primary school full time. The North West is facing shortages of non-negotiables such as personal protective equipment (PPE) for learners and teachers. It is absolutely vital that there is more urgency in delivering permanent infrastructure and PPE so that schools are a safe place for learners to return to.
- We call on Minister Motshekga to use her media briefing today to give our school communities a detailed update on which of our schools still need emergency toilets, mobile classrooms (for social distancing), and PPE.
But we also call on school communities to protect our existing school infrastructure. Equalisers and school communities across the country have fought hard, and for a long time, for our schools to have safe and dignified infrastructure, as demanded by the Norms and Standards for Public School Infrastructure. So, we are deeply saddened by the vandalism and burning of schools during the unrest in South African recently. The civil unrest has reportedly resulted in the destruction of four schools in Gauteng and 139 schools in KwaZulu-Natal, including one school being burnt to the ground.
The destruction of school infrastructure hurts the most vulnerable learners. As EE learner member S’nethemba said in our statement earlier this month: “I’m heartbroken because this simply means that we are destroying our future and delaying our learning process since it will take time to go back to school and it will be too late. Learners will have to stay home and that means we are not going to be able to learn, even if a teacher tries to help online they will have a problem since we do not all have access to cellphones. Learners in these schools will be left behind and have a lot of work when they go back to school. Let us protect our schools, schools belong to the community and the people who live in it. If we are destroying schools, we are also destroying our property.”
After more than a year of disruptions and uncertainty, school communities need a clear and forthcoming briefing from Minister Motshekga, which takes those affected by her decisions – learners, parents, teachers, unions, school governing body associations and other stakeholders – into her confidence, reflects on the lessons government has learnt and provides clear direction on the DBE’s plans to manage the ongoing pandemic in schools.
To arrange a media interview, contact:
Jay-Dee Cyster (Equal Education Communications Officer) email@example.com or 082 924 1352