Western Cape Education MEC, Debbie Schafer says the announcement that schools will close for a month did not come as a shock, but was disappointing, as Cabinet had succumbed to pressure from teachers unions. While addressing the nation on Thursday night, president Cyril Ramaphosa announced that public schools will be closed from July 27 to August 24. This call was made considering the protection of both students and teachers from the Covid-19 virus which is predicted to reach its peak soon. The decision was made after several unions came forward pleading for learning institutions to shut as the COVID-19 figures across the county continue to rise steadily.
“The all for schools to be shut down did not come as a surprise because as we know whoever puts the most pressure on the president that is who he will cave into like we have been witness to in past instances,” said Schafer matter-of-factly.
The Democratic Alliance (DA) said it will be approaching the courts, on the basis that the decision “is politically rather than scientifically motivated” and not in the best interests of South Africa’s 14 million schoolchildren.
“The decision to close the nation’s schools for four weeks is irrational based on the available evidence which is that schools do not expose learners and staff to higher levels of risk than other places. Indeed, to quote Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga from her statement yesterday following the President’s announcement: “It is important to bear in mind that the latest opinions of the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC), medical and science experts, is that learners are better at school than in communities and homes where the infections are actually taking place,” said interim leader John Steenhuisen.
Schafer added if the statistics are compared, there is not enough evidence to suggest schools in the province need to shut down all schools.
“We have not seen any evidence that suggests that children are more at risk when they are at schools versus when they are in any other public space. When you look at the stats there is no major difference that can be detected that eludes to the virus spreading more rapidly in the classroom than elsewhere,” stated Schafer.
She believes the erratic closure would be detrimental to the future of the learners.
“The fact of the matter is that this decision is not in the interest of the children which ultimately should be top priority. The closure will cause trouble for the sector and for the children for their careers, and their mental health. We are already putting children in danger by leaving them unsupervised in their homes at their own devices,” said Schafer.
However, Schafer has indicated the Western Cape Education Department will follow the directive from the national government to close schools.
“I don’t agree with the decision to have schools closed but I respect the decision and we obviously will ensure schools are closed,” declared Schafer.
Speaking to VOC on Friday, research chair in transformation and professor in the department in education policy studies at Stellenbosch University, Aslam Fataar said he disagreed with the view that Schafer had on President Cyril Ramaphosa.
“I think that this is a negotiated outcome by a government who has had to confront and face pressure from all directions such as teachers unions who represent 500 000 people, the World Health Organization and most importantly anguished parents from poor communities with poor school environments and that is the kind of context in which the decision was made,” said Fataar.