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MEC to chart way forward for NC schools

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Many parents have expressed their fear at the very thought of having to send their children back.

THE NORTHERN Cape MEC for Education, Mac Jack, is expected to chart the way forward for education in the Province during the current Covid-19 pandemic.

Jack will address the media in the Province at a press conference scheduled for Monday following the announcement by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga that schools would reopen for Grades 7 and 12 on June 1.

“The Northern Cape Department of Education has put in place the necessary contingency plans to limit the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the 2020 school academic year. We are working around the clock to ensure that we adhere to the announcement made by the minister. We are putting in place the necessary system and measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus and contribute to flattening the curve on infections. The health and safety of teachers, pupils and staff are indeed our first priority and we are fully aware of the risks involved,” Jack said on Wednesday.

However, many parents in the Northern Cape do not share the department’s eagerness to see schools reopen while the number of infections are still increasing daily.

From online petitions to point-black refusal to send their children back to school, many parents have expressed their fear at the very thought of having to send their children back.

Motshekga announced on Tuesday that Grade 12 and Grade 7 pupils would return to school on June 1 while other grades would be phased in over the coming months.

Many parents in the Northern Cape said yesterday that they believed that the department was not ready to reopen schools and indicated they are very concerned about the health of their children and that of the teachers.

A father from De Aar said that an urgent petition needed to be started to stop the reopening of schools.

“As a father and as an uncle, I fundamentally disagree with this rushed and ill-advised decision. Therefore I’m calling on all South Africans, including teachers, parents, principals and school governing bodies (SGB) to make their voices heard on this matter and join us in our call for the minister to reverse this unwise decision,” he said on Wednesday.

“We maintain that opening schools at this stage poses a risk and danger to all pupils, teachers and support staff as all credible indicators suggest that infections have not yet peaked. Our Constitution states that a child’s best interests are of paramount importance in every matter concerning the child. The minister gave very little reassurance that her decision adheres to this fundamental right. Based on the minister’s address and the data at hand, it seems highly unlikely all 24 000 schools across the country will be Covid-proof within the coming days,” he said.

Other parents pointed out that the inequality that existed between schools also had to be taken into account.

“There are schools that have all the basic resources, like water and sanitation. However, there are rural areas in the Northern Cape and many children have to attend schools on farms. Those schools have no access to these resources and have been battling with the government to supply them with these resources,” a parent said. 

“Pupil transport is also a huge challenge for these pupils. They are transported in overloaded buses to school. Some towns only have one bus to transport the children, so parents do not have a choice but to make use of that transport as they want their children to attend school. These are all factors that some schools are battling with and the government has simply turned a deaf ear. Now they want parents to dismiss all these challenges and send their children to school in the midst of a pandemic.”

Other parents said they understood that attempting to save the academic year was a major challenge that the Department of Education had to address.

“Children need to return to school – learning and teaching is vital to them. The online and home schooling system is a total mess. We need qualified teachers to assist our children. Many parents do not know how to assist their children with their studies and the work is piling up,” one parent said.

“The universities are closed but we want to send our younger children to school. We will have doctors’ surgeries full of sick children. The infection rate is still rising. We know that the government said this coronavirus is not a great threat to children, but we do not want to make our children guinea pigs. We need more time to study this virus.”

Others said the health of teachers also needed to be taken into account.

“The department has only focussed on the pupils. The teachers are also at risk. What if they have underlying illnesses and are still forced to return to the classroom. There are so many people who are forced to work without the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE). This whole experiment will also just end up in a disaster,” they said.