Protest as pupils return

Bo-Kaap residents protest against the opening of lower grades amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Bo-Kaap residents braved the cold on Monday morning, July 6, to protest against the reopening of schools during the Covid-19 pandemic, as Grades 6 and 11 pupils and some Grade Rs returned to class.

Grades 7 and 12 pupils have already been back at school since the beginning of June.

Wearing black clothing, the parents and grandparents stood on the corner of Wale and Buitengrancht streets in Bo-Kaap with placards. They said the government was putting their children’s lives at risk and that Parliament should be opened first.

“They work behind computers and want to put our children out there. The children in poor schools such as ours will suffer. Our teachers and children’s lives matter,” said Fatima Isaacs.

Another resident, Zaida Davis said her 5-year-old grandson is a pupil at the school. “I refuse point- blank to send him to school. I’m not putting my child’s life at risk,” she said.

Schotsche Kloof Primary School principal, Faadil Kamish, confirmed last week that one of their teachers had tested positive for Covid-19 and was put in isolation.

The Western Cape Education Department (WCED) cleaned and decontaminated the school.

Mr Kamish said only a handful of Grade R pupils came to school on Monday and Tuesday.

“We’re doing all we can to protect them. It’s not easy but we’re working together and we can’t send them away,” he said.

Grades R, 6 and 11 across the country were expected to return to school after more than three months at home. They joined Grades 7 and 12 who returned last month as part of a phased reopening of schools.

Briefing the country on Sunday, July 5, Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, said they have spent many hours and days in consultation with strategic stakeholders, partners, and within the government, looking for solutions on how to proceed.

“We have sought and obtained advice from scientists, medical and education experts, which informs the decisions that we make on a daily basis within the basic education sector,” she said.

Touching on the effect of Covid-19 on schools, Ms Motshekga said schools were a direct microcosm of societies in which they are located. “On a daily basis, we see an unprecedented rise in Covid-19 infections, due to a number of factors, including non-compliance with the health, safety and social distancing protocols. What we see in our communities, is the same phenomenon that is beginning to creep into our schools,” she said.

Ms Motshekga said after Grade 7 and 12 pupils returned to school on June 8, 968 of the 25 762 schools were closed and reopened and 2 740 teachers, of the total number of about 440 000 teachers, were infected by the virus.

Debbie Shäfer, MEC for Education, responded to the outcry and said it is not possible to predict when the Covid-19 peak will be, and to keep children from school indefinitely is contrary to their interests.

“Available medical evidence is that children are least susceptible to getting the virus, and if they do, of getting it badly. There is strong support from the people who do know, for the reopening of schools with the safety protocols in place. There are also many parents who are back at work, or who need to go back to work. For that, they need their children to be back at school,” she said.

Ms Shäfer said the people who will be most affected by not returning to school are the poor and the education they are missing will have a lifelong impact on their futures.

“The longer learners are out of school, the more likely it is that they will drop out. We have repeatedly stated that overcrowded classrooms must be dealt with by alternative methods of teaching, such as splitting classes or having different grades attend on different days. The fact that this is continually raised shows that there is something else behind these protests,” said Ms Shäfer.

She added that parents may keep their children at home at the moment, provided that they apply via their school and take responsibility for their child’s learning.