Open letter to basic education minister

Wesley Neumann, principal, Heathfield High School, Heathfield

Open letter to the Minister of Basic Education, the honourable Angie Motshekga:

The indication made by the Minister of Basic Education that schools will reopen on Monday June 1 for pupils with certain precautionary measures borders on the ridiculous and could be tantamount to sending our youth, and their aged caregivers to their deaths.

As much as I hope that not one of our children die as a result of going back too soon due to Covid-19 those who are advocating the early return must have the conviction to stand up and take responsibility for that death if it should happen.

You cannot reopen schools while the infection rate is on the increase.

The infection curve must first flatten or decline before the reopening of schools can take place in any form.

The plan outlined by the education department:

1. Educators are expected to heat screen pupils – we as educators are not qualified to test and screen pupils. Should a pupil be above the “safe temperature” how do we manage those kids – turn them away?

2. The department will request to reduce social distance of 1.5m to 1m against the World Health Organisation recommendation and that the maximum in class is 40 pupils. This is insane and should be opposed at all costs.

3. What is the detailed plan to make point 2 above work? In short, the Department of Basic Education must detail the complete plan as to how the classroom set-up will be implemented in order to limit infections as the peak of the virus is yet to come.

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 under this guise.

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

The Covid-19/ coronavirus is ruthless and indiscriminate. The response of humans all over the world should be to prioritise health and wellbeing over all else. While the future remains uncertain and unsafe, it would be irresponsible to expect pupils to return to school where the spread of the virus will be exacerbated by the volume of humans in such close proximity. With 45-plus pupils 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 pupils in the country need to sit for the same standardised examination. This is one of the injustices that was not addressed. Township pupils, although required to write the same examination, were never brought on 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 pupils 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.” – Oliver Reginald (OR) Kaizana Tambo, president of the ANC,1969 to 1991.

We should return to schools when it is safe for the children and teachers to do so.