Activists call for school closure for the year

The activists say they favour the continued closure of schools over the winter holiday break as the problems of covid-19 containment make learning and teaching hazardous. Photo by Vincent Lali

Community organisations and activists that favoured the closure of schools differ over whether Grades seven and twelve should return to school in the Western Cape.

Activists that were involved in the closing of schools when they re-opened in June say that the schools should be closed instead of going into winter break.

Other community leaders worry that problems around the shortage of teachers and safety from the coronavirus would still plague schools when they are re-opened.

Rodney Zeeberg, leader of Bishop Lavis Action Committee, said schools should remain closed for the remainder of the year as they are “breeding grounds for infections.”  

“With learners becoming infected themselves, they subsequently expose teachers, general staff as well as community members and families to the deadly virus,” he said. Zeeberg said schools should remain closed as “the peak is only going to reach us as late as September this year or even later.”

Schools should stay closed because they can’t comply with covid-19 regulations owing to poor infrastructure, overcrowding, lack of proper ablution facilities and PPE, he said.

Zeeberg said BLAC proposes that “Grades 1-11 should be promoted and learners should do a reworked curriculum next year.”

“Grade 12 should be promoted on the strength of their final term Grade 11 results and be offered a bridging course at university next year with free education,” he said.

Mabhelandile Twani said he was opposed to the school closure for Grades 7 and 12 learners. “When they return to school, they will be under pressure to deal with the school work that has been piling up while they were sitting at home,” he said.

Recently, Twani and other parents had been shutting down schools in Khayelitsha.

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They were demanding that the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) hire more teachers to deal with the increased number of classes.

They also demanded that WCED build school halls and change school furniture to make schools covid-19 ready. Schools need new furniture like school desks to enable learners to social-distance, said Twani.

He said: “We are worried that the problems that we complained about will still be there when the schools reopen.”

BLAC members protesting along Robert Sobukwe Road against the return of Grades R, 6 and 11 learners to school. Archive Photo

Haido Mteto, secretary of Khayelitsha Education Forum, said the closure of schools comes with advantages and disadvantages for learners and teachers, who often have “limited resources.”

Mteto said: “It gives the education sector a chance to restrategise and replan how to comply with covid-19 regulations, which include social distancing, provision of sanitisers and screening.“

“Schools are not coping with monitoring of learner behaviour as new grades are phased in,” he said. He added that the Western Cape Education Department is failing to give teachers infected with the coronavirus psychological support.

“Parents are scared of the virus, but at the same time they don’t want their kids to lose an academic year,” he said.

On the lack of psychological support for teachers, WCED’s Bronagh Hammond said: “We have highlighted, communicated, promoted the health and wellness programme through a variety of platforms.”

The WCED, according to Hammond, offers psychological support to teachers over social media platforms and its website, and Whatsapp messages are sent to principals for distribution to educators.

Parents and activists have recently shutdown a number of schools in Khayelitsha because they were “not safe”. Archive Photo by Mzi Velapi

SADTU Western Cape chairperson, Jonavon Rustin, said the closure was well-timed as it happened just when the rate of coronavirus infections was climbing. “The timing is perfect as it gives the Department of Education time to put everything in place to ensure a safer return to schools,” he said.

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Rustin said the closure of school would contribute towards the fight against the spread of the coronavirus.

SADTU maintains that the current school closure should continue until after the peak of coronavirus infections, said SADTU deputy secretary general, Nkosana Dolopu.

To save lives of “teachers and learners whilst ensuring that no child is left behind,” he said, “the leadership collective of SADTU decided to call for the closing of all schools until the covid pandemic peak passes.”

Acting provincial chairperson of Western Cape COSAS, Mphumzi Giwu, said: “No school, private or not, should operate in the Western Cape as from Monday.”

COSAS demands that the WCED place Grade 12 learners in educational camps after testing them for coronavirus, he said. “Those who test positive must be quarantined and be allowed to join those who tested negative afterwards in the camps.”

“The learners won’t have to fret about hand sanitizing, mask wearing and social distancing in the camps because all of them would have tested negative for coronavirus,” he said.

As for other grades, Giwu said: “Pass one, pass all.”

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