Home South African Teachers relieved schools are closed after infections, deaths of colleagues

Teachers relieved schools are closed after infections, deaths of colleagues

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Many have lost their lives to Covid-19 and I couldn’t be more relieved that the president has taken the decision to close schools for four weeks - teacher

President Cyril Ramaphosa said schools were closing for four weeks to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus, which he described as a storm hitting the country. File picture: Motshwari Mofokeng / African News Agency (ANA) Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng/African News Agency (ANA)

SINCE the reopening of schools last month, many teachers and pupils contracted Covid-19, forcing the schools to shut down for a few weeks.

In one week of June, 14 teachers were said to have died from Covid-19.

The Department of Basic Education (DBE) won’t confirm the number of deaths, but taking to Twitter on July 4 for an example, DBE’s Siphiwo Mbokane shared news of  the passing away of Govan Mbeki Primary School deputy principal Papi Mohono, who had died from Covid-19 illnesses.

Mbokane’s page is filled with updates of teachers who’ve lost their lives to the pandemic. 

Elijah Mhlanga, national spokesperson of the Department of Education, couldn’t give the number of teachers who have died, but said that 2 740 teachers (less than 1% of the total number employed in the sector) have been infected with the coronavirus since schools reopened last month. 

“Among pupils, there were 1 260 reported infections. This translates to less than 1% of pupils, Mhlanga said, stressing that the highest number of infections were from the Western Cape, Gauteng and Eastern Cape.”

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement came after the education unions protested and called for immediate closure of schools until after the country had passed the peak of Covid-19. 

Unions argued that the system wasn’t ready and was under severe pressure, with low numbers of attendance since the return of the first cohort. They also blamed the education department for failing to protect teachers, pupils and education support personnel by providing them with the necessary protective materials at all schools. 

Ramaphosa on Thursday announced that the Cabinet had decided that all public schools should take a break for the next four weeks.

“This means that schools will be closed from July 27 and will reopen August 24,” said Ramaphosa, adding that the current academic year would be extended beyond the end of 2020. He said Grade 12s would only take a one-week break, and Grade 7s would take two weeks. 

He said the decision came after the Department of Basic Education met with more than 60 organisations representing parents, school governing bodies, principals, teachers, independent schools and civil society organisations. 

However, National Professional Teachers Organisation of SA executive director Basil Manuel said they are disappointed that issues tabled to the Basic Education were watered down. 

“We welcome the four-week closure of schools but cannot identify with one- and two-week closure for Grade 12 and Grade 7 pupils, respectively. Is the government saying that these pupils and their teachers are more immune to the virus during the expected peak than those in other grades?

“Most frustrating is how the announcement was handled. We understand that the president could not go into any details of how the closure would practically work. It is therefore  important that the minister should have done so, especially keeping in mind that there was one school day left for arrangements to be put in place,” said Manuel.  

Governing Body Foundation chief executive Anthea Cereseto echoed Manuel’s sentiments that the president provided insufficient details and that only one day was given for preparing for the closure. 

“Our member schools have flooded us with questions which need to be answered within the next hours, especially with regard to extending the school year into 2021 and management matters such as the utilisation of staff during the closure period.”

The SA Democratic Teachers Union, as well as the DBE, told Independent Media that they don’t give numbers on deaths of the teachers for purposes of confidentiality. But a primary school teacher in Soweto who asked to remain anonymous said there have been principals and teachers who have been dying from the virus.

“My colleagues are testing positive for this virus. A principal has died from Phiri Special School. It is scary,” she said.

A young teacher from Sefika Primary School said that teachers are constantly updated on a colleague who’s died from the virus adding that the death of teachers is prevalent and very traumatic.

A Grade 9 teacher from Reutlwile Secondary School, Esther Mandiwane, said that there was no effective teaching taking place because of the fear and the uncertainty about people’s health.

“It has been difficult for us. I am glad the president took the decision to close schools,” she said.

History teacher Bongani Sithole from Almont High School, said: “We hear of someone’s death every week. It’s tragic. Many have lost their lives to Covid-19 and I couldn’t be more relieved that the president has taken the decision to close schools for four weeks. We need to just cancel the academic year,” he reckoned.

A teacher in Orange Farm, south of Joburg, confirmed that one of her colleagues died as a result of complications associated with Covid-19 while two got infected after the reopening of schools last month.

“We were expected to carry on with our work as if there is nothing. I think they should close schools for the rest of the year to protect us and our families,” she added. 

Another Soweto teacher said three teachers and a school principal had contracted the virus as a result of a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPEs) at his school. 

“Even to this day we still haven’t received the gloves so that we can protect ourselves in handling children’s books for marking. We don’t even have enough furniture to reduce the number of pupils in classes,” he said.

Many other teachers have also complained about a lack of PPEs and proper cleaning in classes.