Pupils need to return to safe schools
This week, cabinet ministers responsible for education are expected to tell us when and how schools and universities are likely to re-open.
On Monday, basic education minister Angie Motshekga and her higher education counterpart Blade Nzimande postponed a scheduled briefing, saying they needed more time to align with other interventions that were to be taken by the National Command Council later this week.
Presumably the postponement is also to give time for further consultations with teacher unions in particular, who have raised questions about safety measures to be taken in schools.
A leaked draft plan by the basic education department indicated that the government was considering to resume schooling in a phased approach with matric pupils going back first, followed in staggered fashion by other grades.
However, there is no indication yet of what practical protective measures schools and other education institutions would be required to take when schools reopen.
What we know is that parents and schools are anxious, and rightfully so.
Although some have used online learning portals to mitigate the impact of the lockdown, the fact is that many pupils have lost out on at least five weeks (and counting) of schooling which will likely have a huge impact on the success of their academic year.
Equally, reopening schools prematurely and with no concrete protective plans in place will have devastating health implications not only on those in the school community, but on their families back home.
At some point schools will reopen.
By the time they do, the government and its stakeholders must have seriously considered how to practically implement healthcare principles of hygiene social distancing, proactive disease monitoring.
This task is even more urgent in SA with too many of our schools in townships and rural areas structurally unable to meet these requirements.
We need appropriate intervention across the board to ensure that none of our schools, teachers or pupils are put at risk because of inadequate planning and poor implementation.
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