South Africa's basic education minister, Angie Motshekga. File photo: ANA/Jacques Naude
South Africa's basic education minister, Angie Motshekga. File photo: ANA/Jacques Naude

Dear Minister Angie Motshekga, re-opening schools puts us in harm's way

By Nirupa Chaithram, Vanessa Leroux And Bobo Mokoena Time of article published Jul 5, 2020

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Never has George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ been more apt: ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL, BUT SOME ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS…..

The purpose of this letter is not just to reiterate the deadliness of the Covid-19 pandemic. You are well aware of this. It is however, to enlighten you on your flawed logic and so called “expert advice”

This letter seeks to represent many poor and disadvantaged parents opposed to the re-opening of schools. We have seen the re-opening of schools for the first cohort (Grades 7, 12) and now proposal for the next cohort as deplorable, and a total disregard for the inequalities that we as a country face. 

It is evident that your smugness supported by your “flawed logic” is rooted in the fact that you wrote off parents like us, who stand in opposition to you and your cohorts, as weak-minded, spineless fools whom you would have expected to cave in by now because you have thus far succeeded in thwarting the efforts of other individuals/organisations who have attempted to halt the re-opening of schools. The difference between us and them, is that we have no political agenda. Our stance is clear: The safety and security of our children above all else.

We as parents, stand witness to our children and educators dying, while our voices are be muted by the DBE. As parents, we should be able to take decisions which are in our children’s best interests. When we ask for a delay in the re-opening of our schools, we ONLY carry out our responsibility as parents to provide a safe environment for our children to be educated in.  We are asking for the re-opening schools ONLY when it is safe to do so,  NOT WHEN we are on the EXPONENTIAL rise of a pandemic. 

Since the re-opening of schools, we stood witness to how, not less than 10 families had to bury their young children under the age of 19, due to Covid-19,  43 young adults have  between the ages of 20-29, have also succumbed (1).  I ask you, how much more should our communities and families bleed, before a government, who's priorities should be to care for his most vulnerable, will hear our pleas?    Instead, the DBE are now opening the floodgates for MORE learners to go into a COMPLEX ECOSYTEM ………. Whose responsibility will then it then be to care for our children?

Are teachers citizens of this country? When we use the word ‘safe’, we are looking at it in its entirety and in context. Contrary to your belief, we do not expect to live in an insulated bubble until the pandemic is over; rather, we are appealing to you to err on the side of caution. Simply put: resume schooling when we are in a better position to ascertain when the peak of the pandemic has passed and the mortality rate is minimal. You gaining wisdom in hindsight must not be at the expense of our children and teachers lives(2).

As parents, members of communities, and ultimately a citizen of South Africa, we are questioning whether teachers are part of this country?  If yes, why are they being treated as disposable? Why are they being treated differently? (2). They are not soldiers, that is not their profession, they are trained to impart knowledge not fight a war against Covid-19. 

This disease spreads from human to human, human infected surfaces to human. All humans – that’s students, parents, teachers ( school ecosystem) are vectors of the disease. There is new evidence as cited by Dr Ashish Jha, the Director Harvard Global Health Institute, on 2 July 2020 which shows that children spread Covid-19 as easily as adults (3). How then do we open schools on the upward trend of the pandemic?

Have the “protectors” of our country, become so comfortable in exploiting the most vulnerable in our society, that they took a decision to play Russian roulette with the lives of teachers, learners, and the most impoverished communities?  Are our leaders now numb to the pain and suffering of our communities?  The past few weeks have borne evidence to this.  How? The DBE can hold a loaded gun to a parent’s head and say “go forth expose yourselves and children to the virus…”

The greatest irony lies in the new buzz word, ‘The New Normal’. If this is the mantra that you now want to chant to convince us that the academic year is critical for the cognitive development of our children and the urgency for our matriculants to write their exit exams, then go back to the drawing board and restructure the academic year. A ‘New Normal’ should encompass an evolution in our thinking. Does an academic year have to begin in January and end in December? Why are you pushing a curriculum that is predominantly outdated? A curriculum which leaves our children exiting a schooling system that does little to empower them in developing critical entrepreneurial skills that could help drastically reduce our astronomical unemployment rate? So, please don’t use the phrase ‘educating our children’ to justify the flawed logic for keeping schools open. We will not allow our kids to be led like lambs to the slaughter.

All we have seen are broad level “plans” which are there to obfuscate the real issues.

We sit with a historical disadvantage in our communities, and where schools still face the challenge where the most basic human rights like clean running water and access to sanitation are not in place.   Overcrowded classes and learner to teacher ratios have not been dealt with.   This while the overloading of scholar transport continues.  Psycho-social issues have NOT been dealt with BEFORE schools re-open, and so called “experts” and “advisors to the DBE insist on the quick re-opening of schools, YET at the same time ask learners to “PARTITION” themselves from the elderly?  Why distance when you insist on them being back at school? Distance how, in small dwellings???

The KEY reason for our child be at school is to learn … how does my child do this by breathing in increased amounts of carbon dioxide?  We have seen that grade 7 and 12 learners are facing a lack of oxygen and in some cases drooling behind their masks.

Minister Motshekga you patronise us by labelling us as selfish for asking for schools to be closed until such time that it is safe to re-open – you justify your criticism as us wanting to deprive our children of an education, and tell us that we “cannot be in hiding for three years”. This is where the deadly combination of ignorance and arrogance becomes glaringly apparent. Again flawed logic.

Currently, there is no way that quality education can take place with a traumatized teacher and learner.   In the Western Cape which is referred to as the "Epicentre” of this virus, every other day a school closes, and what is referred to by the DBE as "education" comes to a halt.   

As government, please reflect upon the "calculated risks" you took, left emotional scars of which you will be reminded of with years to come.  Families and communities will remember, that you maintained and widen the gap between rich and poor…….

 

Schools are Not Ready to open. And this decision needs to be condemned. 

Way forward

- We insist on an ADAPTIVE and RESPONSIVE plan for a CHILD-CENTRIC SCHOOL ECOSYSTEM.  WHY?  Because we do not know where we are in the lifecycle of the virus

- The time be taken to get all compliance measures in accordance to the Schools Act and Occupational Health and Safety Act 

- MASS CAMPAIGNING in our 11 languages so that Standard Operating Procedures can be understood and then ADOPTED by ALL first 

- Level the education system to be inclusive of the children who have been left behind

- All pyscho-social levels amongst educators and learners need to be established, and support to be provided before schools re-open

We ask that government prioritize the health and safety as a nation, and reverse this decision for the rushed re-opening of schools, which puts us in harm’s way. We have also asked that the DBE allow children to learn at home remotely through television, and school learning packs until it is safe to return to contact-based learning.

We as parents have no other choice but to execute our constitutional and Godly responsibility by keeping our children safe at home. 

Life over everything ….

We have the tenacity of a weed!

We are not the voices in the wilderness that can be muted!

This is the battle cry of parents who will fight to the bitter end for the life and safety of our children.

Best,

Nirupa Chaithram, Vanessa Leroux and Bobo Mokoena on behalf of 108 629 concerned parents.

* The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.

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