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Human Rights Commission backs return of pupils to schools

The SAHRC says it supports the reopening of schools.
The SAHRC says it supports the reopening of schools.
Image: Gallo Images/ IStock

The SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has come out in support of the reopening of schools in the country.

The commission said on Wednesday it “supports the position of Unicef that children should return to schools as soon as possible because ‘evidence points to harm being done to children by not being in school'.”

The commission said it had become aware of studies that showed children were suffering more while at home, having lost between 20% and 50% of their scheduled schooling since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

The commission also referred to studies conducted by a number of experts. These revealed that more children were going hungry as a result of not being able to access food through feeding schemes. Because of this, children with underlying conditions such as pneumonia and HIV/Aids suffered an increased risk of acute malnutrition.

The studies revealed that “poor children are not being screened for diseases which kill thousands of South Africans annually and severely compromise many more, notably TB and HIV”.

“[There is an] increased risk of child abuse, mental health breakdowns with rising rates of depression and anxiety. Children are at high risk of being left home alone when their caregivers go to work,” said the commission.

The studies also revealed that poor children were at a greater disadvantage compared to those at better developed schools with access to online learning.

The studies showed that “poorer children regressed significantly in terms of reading and maths skills during extended absence from school”.

The commission said it had conducted its own research to establish whether the country's education departments were adequately prepared to receive children back into the schooling system.

Their survey was conducted on 4,485 schools, representing close to 20% of the national total.

“Because the survey was anonymous and voluntary, the results of the survey cannot be said to be representative of the schools in the country and cannot be used to make any claims about the readiness of schools to receive learners,” cautioned the commission.

“Despite these limitations, the results of the survey provide useful information to the commission and provincial departments of education.”

From the schools surveyed, over 90% reported that all pupils wore masks. Around 95% of teachers at these schools said they wore masks at school.

A cause for concern for the commission, however, was the availability of running water. This ranged from 47% in Eastern Cape schools to 99% in the Western Cape.

“In three provinces, over 90% of schools reported having running water,” said the commission. These schools were in Gauteng, Northern Cape and Western Cape.

“The remaining provinces reported as follows: KZN [59%], Mpumalanga [78%], Limpopo [74%], Eastern Cape [47%], Free State [89%] and North West [89%].

“In respect of sanitisers, in four provinces over 90% of schools reported having sufficient sanitisers,” said the SAHRC. These were Gauteng, Free State, Northern Cape and the Western Cape.

The majority of schools surveyed — 95% — reported having screening processes in place at their schools.

In these schools, over 90% of teachers reported being trained in how to conduct screening.

The survey found that many parents had adhered to the government's calls to send their children back to school.