School desks apart to promote social distancing. Picture: Courtney Africa/African News Agency(ANA)
School desks apart to promote social distancing. Picture: Courtney Africa/African News Agency(ANA)

Get kids back to school, but keep them safe

By Brian Isaacs Time of article published May 26, 2020

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I wondered what my position would be if I were a school principal faced with the dilemma of whether learners should return to school.

As a former principal and teacher, like many principals and teachers of my time, we were confronted with many trying issues of the day.

In 1976, we lived through the uprising of students against learning subjects in Afrikaans.

In 1980 and 1985, there were the high school uprisings against apartheid, and in 1994, the euphoria of the elections.

From 1993 up until today, there was the rationalisation of teachers and in 1998, the introduction of the dumbing down Outcomes Based Education (OBE) - some critics called it “Out By Easter” (it is in operation today).

In 2012, it was the closing down of thousands of schools in urban and especially rural areas.

This year, we are living through a difficult time - the lockdown of South Africa society in the fight against the invisible coronavirus.

During all the difficult periods in education, except the one this year, most South Africans were able to organise themselves during difficult and dangerous times. And yes, people were killed, maimed, injured and psychologically scarred.

Politically, we have been freed from apartheid but economically, the poor suffer the most under the capitalist system. Many people would argue that this is what the people voted for - a capitalist system.

However, this is water under the bridge. We live in the same capitalist system we lived in during apartheid.

The world is in lockdown because scientists, politicians and the person in the street were made to believe that this would curb the spread of the virus.

The technocrats in our society say we must leave it up to the science fraternity to decide.

In South Africa, we have experienced six weeks of lockdown. Citizens are rightly questioning whether it must be continued, relaxed or done away with.

Let us face the facts. If we had an equal society we could have our children at home until the virus has been dealt with. Unfortunately, we are the most unequal country in the world. The money in South Africa sits with the rich, and the government says it does not have the funds to meet all the requirements necessary to start “perfect” schooling.

Against this background, what would I, as a teacher and principal, have done?

I would have made contact with principals of schools of the poor (most schools for the rich would, from my experience, not support poor schools) and have discussions about the way forward. I would then liaise with my parents, teachers and learners. Like-minded teachers and principals must insist on the necessary precautions to make the schools as safe as possible.

School communities must be informed of the dangers of the virus. It is every parent’s right to keep their child at home if they feel it is not safe for the children to return. Many parents have threatened to sue the Education Department if the child contracts the virus. That must be the right of every person.

Consultation about going back to school is very important. From my experience we cannot stand aloof from the important question about when learners should go back to school.

We must consult widely, inform ourselves thoroughly and make the correct decisions with parents, teachers and learners.

Our students must return to schools where they can be looked after, cared for and nurtured by teachers under very strict conditions.

I am not saying this to curry favour with the authorities. My track record will indicate that I have stood up to their many insane policies for which I was dismissed in 2016.

I am very proud to have been dismissed. I wear it as a badge of honour in the fight against injustice.

The health, well-being and education of our children are of paramount importance. I support the stance of principled persons who say learners must return to school sooner

than later and with all the necessary precautions.

* Brian Isaacs obtained a BSc (UWC) in 1975, a Secondary Teacher’s Diploma in 1976, BEd (UWC) in 1981, and MEd (UWC) in 1992. He is a former matriculant, teacher and principal at South Peninsula High School.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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