Schools across the country opened on Monday for learners in grades 7 and 12 as gazetted by Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga – but some schools will not open until they comply with Covid-19 regulations, Motshekga said in a press briefing on Sunday afternoon.  

 This means that schools need to have personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks, soap or sanitiser and access to water.  

Access to water 

Last week, the general manager of stakeholder relations at Rand Water, Teboho Joala said that more than 3 000 schools are affected by erratic water supply in the six provinces.  

According to Joala, Rand Water has identified and prepared for two types of water issues in schools – namely, those schools with water tanks but no nearby water supply and secondly, those schools that don’t have a water tank or regulated, continuous water supply. Over 2 500 schools fall into this bracket, and they will be supplied with water tanks. 

Education budget affects PPE 

But as learners return to school, the quality and quantity of PPE given to pupils is questioned by activist groups. According to the education lobby group, Equal Education, the costs of PPEs have put a strain on the departments of education’s budget. 

“Unfortunately, the types of PPE that can be provided to learners is significantly affected by the budget available. The basic education sector was experiencing a funding crisis before the outbreak of Covid-19, and the lack of additional funding from National Treasury to education has created a difficult situation where education departments have to weigh up Covid-19-related expenditure against other essential education costs,” says Equal Education co-head of research, Roné McFarlane. 

“At the very least learners must be provided with cloth masks as they are required to wear these to school and there must be adequate facilities available at school for learners to regularly wash their hands with either sanitiser, soap and water.” 

McFarlane says there also been challenges with local suppliers obstructing delivery where provincial governments have used suppliers from outside the area or province.  

“As an example, the Eastern Cape Department of Education reported to the Eastern Cape Legislature on 28 May, they had not delivered PPE for learners to any schools and in some districts had only distributed around 20% of PPE for teachers.” 

McFarlane explains that the department has committed to ensuring that all schools have access to water so that learners are able to wash their hands but to also keep school buildings and toilets clean. 

What do teachers say? 

 A teacher from a school in Gauteng tells Health-e News that they received two masks, soap and hand sanitiser as part of the teachers PPE kits that were distributed. The teacher also says that colleagues complained about the quality of the masks they had received. 

 “The masks that we received are hard to breathe in. The masks are cut and stitched in a certain way, and it’s not something that one can wear in a professional environment.” 

 By the time of publication, the department of education did not respond to Health-e News query about PPE in schools.- Health-e News