Commission says the closure will increase inequality since poorer pupils and schools are least able to continue learning.
THE SOUTH African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) says the government’s decision to close public schools from Monday until late August will increase inequality since pupils from poor households will have no other options to continue learning, making them fall further behind those from wealthier families.
In a national address broadcast live on television on Thursday night, President Cyril Ramaphosa said Cabinet had decided to close public schools for all but key grades from July 27 to August 24, to prevent them from becoming sites of aggressive Covid-19 transmissions as infections peak.
“It was difficult to find consensus on the best approach … Taking into account the views, Cabinet has decided today that all public schools should take a break for the next four weeks,” Ramaphosa said.
In response, the SAHRC said that effectively by August 24 over 10 million South African children, depending on the grade they were in, would have lost over 50 percent or 100 scheduled school days as a result of closures in response to the coronavirus.
“The commission’s view on the opening of schools is guided by the evidence provided by a range of researchers that point to the devastating consequences of children not being at school,” it said, listing among them increases in hunger and malnutrition. For many poor children, the meal they get at school constitutes a high percentage of the total food they receive daily.
Ramaphosa did say in his speech that the national school nutrition programme would continue to operate so that all pupils or their parents could collect food directly from schools.
The rights commission said stopping pupils from going to school also increased the risk of child abuse and mental health breakdowns with rising rates of depression and anxiety, and that children were also at high risk of being left home alone when their caregivers went to work.
“(It also) increases inequality since poorer pupils and schools are least able to continue learning. Poorer children regress significantly in terms of reading and maths skills during extended absence from school,” the SAHRC added.
The DA has also slammed the government’s move, saying that it had caved in to teacher unions who have been demanding that schools be shut, citing the risk of Covid-19 infections.
“President Ramaphosa has bent the knee to all-powerful teachers’ unions … who do not have the best interests of pupils at heart … President Ramaphosa is behaving like a ‘spectator president’, taking instructions from whichever powerful interest group threatens him more,” DA leader John Steenhuisen said.
– African News Agency (ANA)