Principal’s views on reopening of schools

Vincent Hendricks, principal, Athlone High School, Athlone

I herewith wish to support Heathfield High principal Wesley Neumann’s appeal to the Department of Basic Education to only reopen schools when it is safe to do so (“Lives of our children matter and schools should open only once it truly is safe for them”).

The principal is also commended for his conviction and courage. He and I work among the oppressed masses of the Cape Flats. The Covid-19 pandemic has indeed brought to light the harsh, bleak and at times brutal world of our children and their families.

An educational institution cannot be separated from the socio-economic context of its community.

Heathfield and Athlone high schools serve impoverished communities where inadequate housing, unemployment, illiteracy and inferior health care are the order of the day. Our people are seriously at risk for contracting the coronavirus as they live in overcrowded, unsafe and unhealthy environments.

The South African government has lost opportunities to transform the living conditions of the oppressed masses of poor people in this country. A progressive, values-based, well-resourced, equal-education system with a strong commitment to social justice would have empowered our people by providing adequate human security.

Neville Alexander, the great educational luminary, noted that education replicates the unequal distribution of capital in this country. Rich schools are becoming more affluent while the poor schools decline through inadequate funding.

Community schools do not have sufficient resources to effectively combat the spread of the coronavirus.

Physical distancing in big classes is going to be a big challenge. The big classes are a direct result of unfair teacher establishments and the concomitant high teacher-pupil ratios.

Principals have to fight to protect the physical and mental health of our teachers and pupils. As it is, some of them have anxiety disorders and underlying physical medical conditions and are vulnerable to Covid-19 infections.

Principals’ policies should not be bricks in the wall, and we should not be bureaucrats. Rather, we ought to be caring, compassionate and considerate.

“The lives of our children do matter.” Mr Neumann and I can attest to this, as we are in the trenches, and we engage with beautiful children who are, however, living under adverse conditions.

Children are not numbers. They are human beings with rights enshrined in the Constitution.

I appeal to all principals and all school-associated bodies, including teacher unions and alumni associations, to support the call to delay the opening of schools.

Scientific evidence is informing us that it will be a while yet before the Covid-19 curve is flattened significantly. I hope that the Department of Basic Education will understand the medical and scientific viewpoints.

Thank you, Wesley Neumann, for your boldness. I support you. “Let us live for our children.”

I call upon the president of the country and cabinet to delay the reopening of the schools until it is really, truly safe to do so. Government needs to accelerate social recovery in terms of quality health care and food security for every poor household.