Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga Picture: Karen Sandison/African News Agency(ANA)
Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga Picture: Karen Sandison/African News Agency(ANA)

Lives of our children matter and schools should open only once it truly is safe for them

By W Nuemann, Principal Heathfield High School Time of article published Apr 24, 2020

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An open letter to the Minister of Education, Honourable Angie Motshekga.

The world's leading medical scientists are feverishly seeking ways to stem and stop the deadly Covid-19 virus. Those countries that presumed that the virus was ordinary did so to their peril and suffered tremendous amounts of deaths.

Until the world's scientists come up with a cure and vaccine, we must treat the virus with absolute care.

Presently, the virus dictates to us and if we do not adhere to certain behavioural patterns the loss of life will continue. South Africa is approaching its winter season, which is known to promote the influenza virus, and we will have to be extra careful to prevent the similar Covid-19 virus from spreading.

The number of infections continues to increase exponentially. We are finding it difficult to contain the spread despite continuous screening and testing.

With this in mind, I find the statement attributed to our minister of education that "the class of 2020 will sit for their examinations by hook or crook” is extremely presumptuous, irrational, irresponsible and very untimely.

The academic recovery plan released by the department via social media lamented the minister's obsession that the 2020 academic year must continue by all means. This attitude only serves to traumatise learners, parents and educators who are on tenterhooks due to the rate at which the virus is spreading and the lack of scientific intervention.

The Covid-19 (coronavirus) is ruthless and indiscriminate. The response of humans all over the world should be to prioritise health and well-being over all else. While the future remains uncertain and unsafe it would be irresponsible to expect learners to return to school where the spreading of the virus will be exacerbated by the volume of humans in such close proximity.

With 45-plus learners confined to small classrooms, this will become the breeding ground for the virus, as the practice of social distancing would be impossible. It would be prudent for the minister to publish how social distancing will be observed should schools reopen as per the recovery document.

Since the advent of democracy, the emphasis has been placed on the yearly matric pass rate. This is the yardstick used to determine the quality of education in our country.

In order to get the national grade pass percentage, all the learners in the country need to sit for the same standardised examination. This is one of the injustices that was not addressed. Township learners, although required to write the same examination, were never brought up to par with the resources, facilities, opportunities and support structures still enjoyed by the majority of former affluent Model C schools.

The township schools with their learners are severely handicapped while the system overwhelmingly favours the wealthy. The outbreak of the pandemic has highlighted the inequalities in our education system.

By adopting a “by hook or by crook” approach that the class of 2020 will sit for the examination will only disadvantage the working-class child.

The lives of our children matter and we trust that the authorities will get their priorities right and realise that the safety of our children should always come first and to only reopen the schools when it is safe for them to attend as determined by the medical and science fraternity.

“The children of any nation are its future. A country, a movement, a person that does not value its youth and children does not deserve its future.” - ANC president OR Tambo

* W Neumann is principal of Heathfield High School in Cape Town.

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

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