Most Western Cape schools ‘can’t maintain distancing at full capacity’
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Cape Town - A survey by the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) indicated that the decision to reopen primary schools and special schools at full capacity would impact 1 100 of 1 523 schools in the province.
According to the WCED, currently, 328 schools could accommodate 100% of their learners in line with Covid-19 protocols, and thus, the majority of schools have indicated space constraints in managing the social distancing requirements.
The survey was presented during a discussion at the standing committee on education at the provincial legislature, following a national directive for the reopening to take place from July 26 and the SA Paediatric Association’s recommendation for children to return to school.
Education MEC Debbie Schäfer's spokesperson, Kerry Mauchline, said the survey was conducted in May, before the Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga gazetted the latest set of directions on 100% attendance.
Mauchline said none of the schools indicated that they were not ready for teaching and learning. She said the indication was for teaching and learning with 100% attendance.
She said 95% of Metro East schools indicated that they could not bring all learners back daily if they had to maintain one meter physical distance.
ANC provincial spokesperson on education, Khalid Sayed, said they were worried about the readiness of the majority of schools in the province.
"You will understand that the majority of schools, especially in poor and working-class communities, are overcrowded and will not be able to abide by the physical distancing requirements," said Sayed.
Progressive Principals' Association spokesperson Anthea Adriaanse said the majority of schools were not fortunate to return to full capacity, and therefore the fact that the pandemic has emphasised the inequalities in the education system was again being highlighted.
Adriaanse said the Department of Basic Education (DBE) has missed an ideal opportunity to invest in IT infrastructure in disadvantaged communities for the learners to access learning.
She said it was simply ridiculous that schools would have to provide reasons why they cannot have all learners back when it was obvious that the answer is money.
"DBE needs to take its head out of the sand and put the wheels in motion to initiate a long overdue conversation as far as the restructure of the current education system is concerned and replace it with one that is a fair system for all," said Adriaanse.
Educators Union of SA provincial chairperson André de Bruyn said with almost 2000 active infections in schools across the country, it seems as if the pandemic was being fuelled from schools as well.
"How can the DBE ever think of opening primary schools to the full capacity at this stage of the pandemic? It is reckless, it is selfish on their part towards the lives and well being of the employees in schools," said De Bruyn.
"How can a logically thinking government open schools on level 3?" he asked.
DBE spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said schools would remain open until the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) and Cabinet advise differently.
Committee chairperson Lorraine Botha said the WCED further indicated it anticipated teachers to be prioritised as the next recipient group for Covid-19 vaccines.
Botha said the department shared that those vaccinations would ultimately support capacity constraints and the general need for a safe, healthy environment at our schools during the pandemic.
"For this reason, we welcome the proactive steps taken by WCED to engage schools in starting the background work to administer jabs," she said.