Fear as more pupils head back to school

Dunbar Primary School in KwaGuqa, Emalahleni, has taken measures to mitigate against Covid-19 by not allowing visitors at the school. The toilets at the school are also being rebuilt. /Thulani Mbele
Dunbar Primary School in KwaGuqa, Emalahleni, has taken measures to mitigate against Covid-19 by not allowing visitors at the school. The toilets at the school are also being rebuilt. /Thulani Mbele

With just four days left before more than six million pupils return to school, a survey of several schools in Gauteng, Mpumalanga and the Eastern Cape has shown that some institutions are not ready to take in more pupils.

The next phase of the re-opening of schools kicks in on Monday and there are concerns over whether the education department of basic education will be able to deliver on its promise to have personal protective equipment (PPE) and mobile classrooms delivered to schools.

This as fear and anxiety grows among teachers, pupils and parents. Pupils in grades R, 1, 2, 3, 6, 10 and 11 are expected to return to schools next week. There is also the fear that staff will not be able to control large numbers of pupils in schools across the country as the number of Covid-19 infections soars.

SA began a phased reopening of schools on June 8 with grades 7 and 12 but teaching has been disrupted as a result of positive cases of Covid-19. There were 775 schools that had to close as a result of positive Covid-19 cases with 523 pupils and 1,169 staff members testing positive for Covid-19 as at June 23.

 

Sowetan visited several schools in Soweto and Emalahleni in Mpumalanga and officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, said apart from PPE they also had a shortage of teachers and classrooms.

Some schools were closed as a result of positive Covid-19cases. One of these was Lofentse Girls' High School in Orlando East.

A school official said they were worried about receiving more pupils.

"I don't know how are we going to cope. As it is, we have been waiting for health officials to disinfect the school for two days. We have not received the safety material for pupils who are coming next week," he said.

An official at Kamila Jubilee Secondary School said things were difficult for them.

"We don't have enough teachers because of comorbidities. I am expecting for 268 Grade 11 and more than 300 Grade 10 pupils to come to school next week," he said.

Another official from Tsumbedzo Primary School said there were 300 pupils coming back next week.

"We only have seven classes and they are not enough for this number. We have decided that our grades will alternate days and on the days when they are home, teachers will record their lessons and send to their parents," he said.

It was the same at Thaba-Jabula Senior Secondary School where a number of principals met to discuss PPE, among other things.

An official at the school said there were 750 pupils who were coming back next week.

"We don't have a problem with the space but our main issue is the shortage of teachers. It's a very stressing situation," he said.

Dunbar Primary School in KwaGuqa, Emalahleni, said toilets were being built after the old ones were demolished before the lockdown came into effect in March.

The official said there was a shortage of classrooms but the school was going to divide pupils into two groups - with one coming in the morning and the other in the afternoon.

An employee at Mafa Max Motlaung Primary School in Delmas said containers were being renovated to accommodate pupils and maintain the social distancing measures.

"We are still waiting for the department to decontaminate the containers but we have enough PPE for the learners," said the employee.

A teacher from Olifantsfontein Primary in Midrand said they did not feel safe as the department was struggling to keep up with the number of positive cases of Covid-19 at schools with a minimum number of pupils.

"We had a positive case of a learner at our school and we were told they will only disinfect and decontaminate the class affected. The department does not care about us. What about other learners who were in contact with the affected learner?" asked the teacher.

A school principal from a Soweto school said the few pupils who were back at school were not taking the virus seriously.

"It is going to be a problem when we have more pupils. The pupils do not adhere to social distancing and whenever I go out to check around the school I find two or three without masks," he said.

Another teacher from Lovemore Primary in Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape, said their school had four classrooms and two grades had to share one classroom. "We will not be able to observe social distancing because there is not enough space," she said.

Department of basic education director-general Matanzima Mweli told the portfolio committee on basic education this week that their plan for the reopening of schools involves different models that will make sure that only 50% of pupils are present to allow for social distancing in class.

Parent Ntombozuko Yaya said she had to stop her niece, a Grade 12 pupil at Ganezulu Senior Secondary in Elliotdale, from going to school because of a lack of PPE.

Elizabeth Sengwayo, from Soweto, said the department should keep schools closed.

"I would rather have my child repeat a grade and go to school when it is safe than have her go to school, catch the disease and die," she said.

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