Learners must never be used as a litmus test for mass infections and fatalities of the Coronavirus. The Congress of South African Students’ (COSAS) will not allow learners of our country to be put at risk due to poor planning and coordination by the Department of Basic Education. It is clear to us and the whole country that the presentation made to the parliamentary committee shows that they have no plan and want to gamble with the lives of learners.
COSAS is concerned about saving the academic year especially because this has a direct impact on our future as learners. However, this should never be at the expense of learners and teachers. It is unfortunate that the Minister and her team have not prepared schools adequately for the eventual reopening of the schools. There can be no compromise to the principle that schools must be ready first before reopening.
The presentation by the Department of Basic Education failed to answer the following critical issues;
- Schools in townships and rural areas have overcrowded classes of more than 60 students. It remains unclear how this issue is to be addressed with the announcement that classes will be limited to 40 students. 40 students in a classroom is still a very high number of social distancing. Most of these schools are understaffed, there is inadequate infrastructure. The department was unable to clearly outline how this is to be addressed except to mention social distancing whereas we know that there is no practical plan. Their plan seems to be based on schools that have resources and not catering to the poor.
- Leaners in our schools share a lot of learning material in class which puts a risk to the social distancing required to prevent infections. There is a plan that has been articulated that deals with this issue. There is no clarity on how teachers are going to be added to facilitate learner under these new conditions.
- The department was unable to explain how they will manage the risks that come with scholar transport which poses a major danger to the spread of this virus. As COSAS we have been raising consistently the problem of scholar transport which is characterized by overloaded vehicles and in other areas nonexistent. If this issue is not adequately addressed learners will be exposed to the virus.
- We are concerned that there is no clear plan on how PPE will be provided for all learners and teachers in schools. Already the public health system is have raised concerns about insufficient protective equipment. There is no indication of by the 6th of May all schools will be disinfected and how will the screening happen. There is a tendency to ignore rural schools because they are not in the face of the media when there is a distribution of services. As COSAS we remain unclear on the plans to manage infections in schools. We reject the plan to exclude other students from receiving cloth masks based on the failed quintile system.
- The department has not addressed how the School nutrition scheme is going to be provided. Many students in our township and rural schools need this for their survival. The inability of the department to plan for this shows that not enough thinking was applied.
- Many schools still do not have proper sanitation and water and yet there is no plan to indicate how this will be addressed in light of COVID19. This situation will clearly not change by the 6th
- The department has no plan to ensure that children from working-class and poor schools are not left behind as they stay at home, unlike their counterparts from affluent schools. Even on this “phased reopening plan” no clear mention is made on how the learners from different grades will be supported.
As COSAS we demand that these above-mentioned issues should be addressed first before a decision of when and how schools should be opened. This is non-negotiable otherwise the reckless action will lead to a bloodbath and a general spread of the virus. We call on the Minister to consult with learners and teachers in order to ensure that there are clear commitments and a common approach adopted by the sector to save the academic year.
We call upon Cabinet and the President to exercise caution before taking final decisions on the dates and plans to reopen our schools. COSAS will make sure that no decisions are taken that will further exclude or put at risk working class and poor students.
For more information
COSAS National Executive Committee