Nationally schools have welcomed back Grade 7 and 12 pupils under new health protocols on Monday. Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga briefed the nation on Sunday afternoon on the plan for schools to finally reopen after a fitful process to get them fully prepared to fight the coronavirus pandemic while ensuring the education of scholars. Motshekga announced that 95% of schools were now equipped with the necessary equipment, while plans were afoot for pupils at the remaining 5%.
But for a parent, and member of the school governing body at Heathfield High in Retreat, Fiona Southgate, her biggest concern remains the safety of the children as the country has yet to reach its peak.
“Even though the Western Cape Education Department has put as much safety measures in place as they were able to, I would suggest schools reopen when the infections rate slows down to at least under 100 a day and South Africa’s winter months have yet to dawn on us. It is illogical to reopen schools under these heinous conditions,” said Southgate.
An anonymous high school teacher agreed and said simply it is far too early to reopen.
“My opinion lies solely on the passion that I have for my learners. I am not influenced by politics, religion or any other agenda. It is too early to put our children and teachers out there having seen what chaos is has caused globally,” said the teacher.
Southgate said there are mixed feelings among the teachers but the core of the matter is that they are anxious to take on the new norm.
“It’s scary because they are going to be the ones that have to tell the kids what to do, and under normal circumstances it is difficult to discipline children and under this scenario it will be a far greater challenge for the educators,” stated Southgate.
However, the teachers aren’t the only ones who are anxious. An anonymous grade 7 learner explained that she does not feel safe at school.
“I am scared of the virus. Every morning before class I visit the on-site therapist and she takes me through breathing techniques. I’d prefer being taught from home and that way I know I’d be safe,” said the student.
But students at Talfalah Primary School in Manenberg shared an alternate view.
“I am excited to be back at school! I need to finish this year and move on to high school, I have already been accepted by a high school,” squealed an excited student.
Another student says she is excited about being at school.
“I missed my friends, teachers and even my school work,” smiled the demure student.
Southgate added transparency from the WCED is of utmost importance during this trying time for all affected parties.
“It’s all good and well that the department wants the best for its learners but then it has walk the walk and prove it. The proof is in the pudding as they say,” stated Southgate.
One of the major concerns for parents is that of having to sign an indemnity form supplied by the schooling fraternity.
However, the principal of Talfalah Primary Mr. MA Karriem said for the students at his school that would not be the case.
“I can understand the concern from parents and the panic that teachers have in terms of having to sing an indemnity form but we will ensure we follow all the guidelines but we are definitely not going to give the parents or the learners anything to sign. There are no guarantees where the virus is concerned,” stated Karriem.
However, the anonymous teacher said at the school he teaches at, educators may face disciplinary action if they do not execute their order to teach.
“There could be recourse should you refuse to teach even though you are protected by your union, but if you are given a direct order and you refuse you can be charged with insubordination which could lead to you being dismissed,” he said.
Lastly, he added that all grades should be offered the same right to live.
“Do I think we should only send the matrics to school and let them finish their final academic year? No, and I am saying this because the treatment and care that is being granted to the rest of the grades should be reciprocated to the matrics. The grade 12 learner is important too. What good is a matric certificate if you die trying to attain it,” he stressed.