53% of adults want schools closed until Covid-19 situation improves - survey

13 January 2021 - 11:53
By Nonkululeko Njilo
Fifty-three percent of the participants of a survey believed that schools should remain closed until the Covid-19 situation improves. File photo.
Image: Gallo Images/Darren Stewart Fifty-three percent of the participants of a survey believed that schools should remain closed until the Covid-19 situation improves. File photo.

As  the country intensifies its fight against Covid-19, a survey conducted by the University of Johannesburg (UJ) has revealed that the majority of people are against the reopening of schools on January 25.

The online survey was conducted between December 30 2020 and January 6 2021 among 10,618 adult participants broadly representative of SA's population in terms of race, education and age.  

Fifty-three percent of the participants believed schools should remain closed until the Covid-19 situation improves. Nineteen percent of adults said schools should reopen for grade 7 and grade 12 pupils only, while 19% of adults said schools should reopen for all grades and 9% said they “don’t know”. 

This comes amid ongoing speculation on whether schools would open on the set date, as the country battles the second wave of the pandemic under level 3 of the lockdown regulations.

President Cyril Ramaphosa offered little clarity on what would happened during his televised address on Monday evening, hinting that an announcement was imminent.

“As schools and other educational institutions prepare to begin the new academic year, there is understandably concern about whether this is advisable in the midst of a second wave of infections,” said Ramaphosa.

Differences on whether schools should reopen differed by income, race and type of accommodation in the survey conducted using social media adverts to draw potential participants and through the popular #datafree Moya Messenger app, which has 2 million active users.

UJ said low income earners were more likely to oppose reopening schools than those on higher incomes. Fifty-three percent of those earning less than R1,000 a month were against schools reopening, compared to 41% of those who earned more than R20,000 a month.

“Attitudes to the reopening of schools also differed by race. Indian adults were the most strongly opposed to schools reopening, with 77% saying schools should not reopen until the situation improves. Coloured and black African adults were also opposed. Sixty-three percent of coloured adults and 52% of black African do not believe schools should reopen. In contrast, only 37% of white adults were opposed to the reopening of schools,” the university said.  

It is not the first time the public has shown a low level of support for children to return to school. A survey conducted by the institution alongside the HSRC between April and May 2020 showed that 79% of adults were “very concerned” that the “coronavirus situation will have a negative impact on their child’s education”.  

Parents from poorer backgrounds were the most worried. Eighty-seven percent of adults with monthly incomes of less than R20,000 were “very concerned”, but only 52% of those earning more than R20,000 gave the same response.

Prof Carin Runciman, UJ's associate professor at the Centre for Social Change, said the findings showed that many people had little confidence in the health and safety of children on school premises.

“The findings from the survey show that the majority of adults oppose the reopening of schools while Covid-19 cases continue at their current high levels. This opposition is strongest among the most vulnerable and economically disadvantaged sections of society, who are less likely to have confidence in the ability of their schools to provide a safe environment for learners.

“These findings illustrate that though parents are deeply concerned about their children’s education, they are equally, if not more, concerned about the safety of their children, their families and communities,” said Runciman.

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