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Learners have mixed emotions after schools reopening postponed

Children won't be going back to school until mid-February in South Africa
Written by Marcia Zali

Learners have welcomed the Basic Education Department’s decision to postpone the reopening of schools by two weeks but they fear for their safety.

Learners who were supposed to start the 2021 academic year are pleased that they will have two more weeks to remain at home. This follows the decision to postpone the reopening of schools by the department of basic education as COVID-19 cases continue rising.

Health-e spoke to learners in Gauteng following this announcement.

“The decision to change the dates is really affecting us. We will be left behind with our school work and by the time we reopen, we might have to rush through the curriculum.But I don’t feel like we would’ve been safe going back to school because of the second wave and I heard that it is more deadly,” said Grade 12 learner Neo Rabekane.

For Nyiko Moyana who will be in Grade 7, remaining COVID-19 free is a priority.

“I feel safe knowing that we won’t be going to school because other children might bring it [COVID-19] to school.”

For both learners, the virus has changed their academic and personal lives. For Rabekane, it is coming to terms with the fact that her class might not have a Matric farewell.

“I never thought that things would be like this during our Matric year. We all wanted to go somewhere like at the Matric dance but because of this pandemic, things are difficult,” she said.

While Moyana is still finding it difficult to adjust to some of the regulations.

“COVID-19 means that we must remain indoors because it can spread quickly. We can’t play outside with our friends, we must wear masks at all times and they [masks] are hot and the sanitiser damages our hands. We can no longer even go to parties. I don’t like that.”

“The government is doing its own thing without finding out from young people how we want things to be done. We have to all be involved in things that are happening around us so that we can have a say on how things should be done,” added Rabekane.

Public vs Private

Public schools were supposed to reopen on the 27th of January while some private schools had already commenced the academic year and will now have to close. Deputy Minister Dr. Reginah Mhaule announced that the decision to revise the 2021 calendar came after consultations with what she called “various stakeholders”.

“Given the pressure experienced by the health system in the past few weeks, occasioned by increased COVID-19 infections which have led to the second wave, the Council of Education Ministers (CEM) in conjunction with the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) and Cabinet, has taken the decision to delay the reopening of both public and private schools by two weeks. This includes private schools that have already opened.”

Both public and private schools will now follow the same calendar where the School Management Teams (SMT) will report for duty on the 25th of January, teachers will return to work on the 1st of February and learners will be returning on the 15th of the same month.

SANACCSF approval

“We applaud the government for listening to us, as civil society, in carefully considering children and putting their best interest first,”  the South African National AIDS Council Civil Society Forum (SANACCSF) said in a statement.

“This is an opportune time for government, while the learners are at home to fix the school infrastructure, water, and sanitation, and to adequately prepare for the return by making PPEs (personal protective equipment) and sanitizers available to all schools,” it said.

SANACCSF had been calling for a clearer science on the impact of COVID-19 on children, the phased return to schools, and the strengthening of public health systems. Their concerns grew after it was reported that more than 200 children were treated for the pandemic and 23 deaths were recorded at the Pediatric ward at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in the first days of the the New Year.

“This is a universal crisis and, for some children, the impact will be lifelong. Moreover, the harmful effects of this pandemic will not be distributed equally. Thus, we call on the government not to be careless when it comes to children. They must act in the best interest of the children as they are hidden victims of the COVID-19 pandemic rather than the face of it,” said SANAC Co-Chairperson, Steve Letsike.—Health-e News

About the author

Marcia Zali