Decision to close schools criticised from all sides

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced yet another controversial decision during his address to the nation on Friday July 24.

PLEASING NO ONE: President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement that schools are to be shut for another four weeks has received criticism and support
Picture: JAIRUS MMUTLE/GCIS

Less than two weeks after the heavily criticised ban on alcohol sales, Ramaphosa informed the country that, starting Monday July 27, schools would shut down once again for four weeks.

The move, he said, came after consultation with various stakeholders.

“Over the last few days, the department of basic education [DBE], led by minister Angie Motshekga, has met with more than 60 organisations representing parents, school governing bodies, principals, educators, independent schools, and civil society formations.

“It has also consulted with the Council of Education Ministers [CEM] representing the provincial education departments,” Ramaphosa said.

“Taking into account the views of the various stakeholders and expert bodies, cabinet has decided that all public schools should take a break for the next four weeks.”

Public schools will be closed from July 27 until August 24.

However, the president said there were some exceptions.

Grade 12 pupils will only take one week off, returning on August 3, while Grade 7s will stay home for two weeks and return on August 10.

Special arrangements will be made for the various special needs schools.

Private schools will also not be forced to close.

“We have taken a deliberately cautious approach to keep schools closed during a period when the country is expected to experience its greatest increase in infections,” said Ramaphosa.

He also assured that the National School Nutrition Programme will remain in operation despite the closure of schools, allowing pupils or their parents to continue collecting meals.

The decision to re-close schools has, unsurprisingly, been met with heavy criticism from all sides.

On the one hand, some have called for schools to remain open, such as DA leader John Steenhuisen.

Steenhuisen said the decision was “politically rather than scientifically motivated”.

“The government has refused to open the MAC’s [Ministerial Advisory Committee] advisories to public scrutiny, precisely because the government’s decisions go against the advice of scientists,” he said.

Steenhuisen pointed out how MAC member and Wits professor of vaccinology Shabir Madhi had consistently called for schools to remain open.

In a recent interview with eNCA, Karim said: “I’m not sure right now whether there’s any part of the country that I would recommend that children should not go to school.

“I think at this point, even though cases are rising, the actual fraction of infections is quite small.”

On the other hand, some groups have criticised Ramaphosa’s decision as not going far enough.

National Professional Teachers Organisation of SA (Napotsa) executive director Basil Manuel said that while they were happy that the president had agreed to shut public schools, he said allowing private schools to remain open was deeply problematic.

“The argument that we put forward about infection rates and the peak of the pandemic don’t list the private schools,” Manuel said

“The private schools have also had infections, the private schools have also kept their infections a little well hidden, as compared to public schools. We wanted equal treatment.”

For Manuel, this approach will only worsen the existing systemic inequality present in the country’s education system.

“When you start treating certain groups as if they are extra special and more equal than others, you entrench it,” he said.

“What we have been seeking to do over many years has been trying to remove that entrenched difference.”

Not only trade unions have said government should have implemented a blanket closure on all schooling throughout the pandemic.

As previously reported by TimesLIVE (‘Discontinue 2020 academic year’: survey of parents and pupils, July 7 2020) the closing of schools has been getting increasingly popular among parents and parents.

A recent survey by market research company Ask Afrika found 68% of parents and 71% of those aged between 16 and 24 believe the academic year should be scrapped entirely and restarted in 2021.

In addition to concerns over the health of pupils and staff, respondents also cited concerns over lost time.

“There is particular concern around the matriculants of 2020 and their ability to successfully complete their Grade 12 year, given the amount of lost teaching days,” the survey stated.

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