• Brianna Pillay

To Be or Not to Be at School?

After spending two and a half months at home due to South Africa’s unprecedented lockdown, triggered by the Covid-19 global pandemic, the re-opening of schools are starting to phase in. The Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, announced on the 19th of May 2020, that South Africa’s grade 7 and 12 learners will be resuming school on the 1st of June 2020 and the remaining grades will follow in a staggered approach. The question remains, will the commencement of schools adversely increase the spread of the calamitous Coronavirus in the country?

There has been varied reactions to the resuscitation of schools, both nationally and globally. According to a News 24 article written by Azarrah Karrim, the approach the government has embarked on, in the reopening of schools is "irrational and arbitrary". He further elaborated that the lives of students, educators and families are in jeopardy to succumbing to Covid-19, according to the National Association of Parents in School Governance.

In an affidavit by Mahlomola Kekana, the association's president states: "Given these realities, of which the court can take judicial notice, it is incumbent upon the respondents to demonstrate that they are gambling with the lives of our children and throwing them into the lion's den."

With the restarting of school, trepidatious parents and guardians are dubious regarding the safety and protection of their children. Will schools implement appropriate infrastructure and social distancing? Will children have access to protective equipment such as facial masks? Will there be consistent testing of the virus as well as adequate sanitation? These are the few of many apprehensions pertaining to the reopening of schools.

To curb the spread of the Coronavirus at school, government has enforced stringent regulations. Schools will be rigorously sterilized and should adhere to the health and safety guidelines. The use of masks and sanitizers will be mandatory for all teachers and learners. Strategies will be regulated to protect individuals with comorbidities, such as asthma, diabetes, and cardiac and respiratory issues.

When it comes to safeguarding the education system, it is imperative that there should be provision for a recovery phase. South Africa should use various resources to ensure it builds a more organised and resilient education system.

On the 29th of April, UNESCO convened an online conference of 13 education ministers from countries that are detrimentally affected by the Covid-19 global pandemic. The ministers accentuated the fact that the commencement of school was crucial to avoid the broadening of inequalities, to ensure the eminence of education as well as to protect the psycho-social well-being of scholars.

Although there have been anxieties related to the re-opening of schools, educational institutions in the Netherlands reopened on the 11th of May 2020. The pupils will attend for only half the week and spend the rest of week with online learning.  Clair Tierney, a teacher at The British School of Amsterdam states, “I feel as safe as I can be,” as she had resumed her teaching at school.

According to The Conversation website, studies for the Covid-19 pandemic predict that school closures would prevent only 2-4% of deaths – which is far less than other social distancing intercessions. Preliminary neuroscience research suggests that in order to preserve health and welfare, adolescents need to have social interaction. Depriving children of social connections during this critical period of development can have long-standing consequences in their adulthood. This advocates that reopening schools should be executed.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has reassured parents that they will not be obliged to send their children back to school when on-site learning resumes. So again, the question remains, to be or not to be at school?

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