Decision to suspend contact sport in schools amid Covid-19 infection fears slated
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Cape Town - A decision by the Council of Education Ministers (CEM) to suspend contact sport in schools, over fears of Covid-19 infections, has been slammed by education watchers with some blaming the government’s handling of the pandemic while others said the edict was not binding.
Department of Basic Education (DBE) spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said the decision was taken in a virtual meeting held on Wednesday, which also alluded that, non-contact sport training in schools could continue provided that all social distancing, hygiene and safety measures were observed and that there was no physical contact between participants during training.
Mhlanga said following school sport activities related Covid-19 outbreaks in Gauteng and general rise of cases in communities across the country, the Outbreak Response Team (ORT) said that the risk was high when engaged in close-contact sport.
He said the department would continue to monitor the situation, and a Government Gazette would be issued with the notice in the coming days.
The Congress of South African Students (Cosas) have lambasted the decision by the CEM to suspend contact sport in schools, citing that it could lead to a similar incident to the one where four boys drowned in a sinkhole at an N2 bridge, near Nyanga. in February.
Cosas acting provincial secretary Mphumzi Giwu said the incident happened when contact sport in schools was suspended, and left children playing in an unsafe environment.
DA education spokesperson Baxolile Nodada said the outbreaks could only be blamed on the government's failure to procure the necessary vaccines on time, and its further failure to ensure a speedy and comprehensive vaccine roll-out programme.
He said it was that failure that has led South Africa to the brink of the third wave, leaving “us” in similar circumstances to the same time last year.
“The positive impact of school sports on children should never be underestimated, nor the negative impact the suspension could have on sport development and school attendance. School sports not only encourages healthy habits, but also provides children with safe environments away from the streets,” Nodada said.
Federation of Governing Bodies of SA Schools legal services manager Juané van der Merwe, said it must be noted that a media statement could not create binding rules.
“We therefore await the amendment of the Education directions in great anticipation.
“In the meantime we urge schools to continue to act responsibly and to ensure that the safety and well-being of learners and staff members enjoy the highest priority,” Van der Merwe said.
Independent Schools Association of SA (Isasa), executive director Lebogang Montjane said while it was disappointing for all pupils who enjoyed contact sports, including rugby, they have always maintained that any decisions taken by the government that aimed to reduce the transmission of Covid-19 and were rooted in scientific best practice should be supported.
“In the interests of further ensuring that our members are well-informed, we will be meeting with the DBE (today) to gain greater clarity on the nature and scope of the notice that is set to be published in the Government Gazette in the near future …” Montjane said.
Montjane said it should be noted that sport was an important aspect of an education. He said the loss of sport and competitions has had a negative impact on their children.
National Association of School Governing Bodies general secretary Matakanya Matakanye said they supported the decision. He said it was for the protection of the children and teachers against the virus.
Educators Union of SA (Eusa) spokesperson Kabelo Mahlobogwane, assured that there was very minimal contact that took place at the sporting activities compared to the morning when pupils go to school, after school as they return home and more critically in the classrooms and during lunch breaks.
Mahlobogwane said they have long warned the DBE to stop its obsession of going back to what was before Covid19 and instead focus on building a new system that would be in line with the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the new normal.
Giwu said the CEM should stop making decisions on behalf of millions of pupils in the comfort of their homes, and start having physical meetings as most of those very same learners were attending classes physically and interacting with their peers and teachers.