Basic education department in talks on school vaccination plan

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Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga briefing media on the opening of schools for the 2022 Academic Year. Photo: GCIS
Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga briefing media on the opening of schools for the 2022 Academic Year. Photo: GCIS

NEWS


The departments of basic education and health will work together to encourage more schoolchildren to vaccinate against Covid-19.

In 2021, the department of health announced that vaccination was open to children aged 12 to 17.

In a briefing on Tuesday on school readiness, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga said the two departments had met to “consider a vaccination plan”.

“Insofar as it affects learners in school, it was agreed that we need to increase the vaccination for everybody eligible. We have agreed to prioritise an advocacy campaign to encourage eligible people, both adults and learners of eligible age, to go get their jabs,” said Motshekga.

She said her department could not run the programme in schools after it was announced as the sector was busy with end-of-year assessments.

“We decided to defer the vaccination of learners to January this year.”

In December, basic education spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga told City Press that more than 700 000 children of school-going age had already been vaccinated.

Mhlanga said that was “huge” considering that it had happened outside of school before the departments of health and education had implemented the vaccination programme.

PARENTAL CONSENT

Motshekga stressed that parents would still need to give consent for their children to be vaccinated and that the department would not force learners to vaccinate.

She said she had received “lots of reports” from parents who had heard that their children would be vaccinated without their permission.

Motshekga said: 

I did indicate that we will get their permission, but vaccination programmes are run by the department of health and not ourselves. If 12-year-olds go and present themselves at a health facility for vaccination, it is completely out of our control. But our preference is that parents will work with us to motivate and support learners and their children to vaccinate.

She said that for now there is no vaccination in schools because the department of health does not have the capacity and has not yet put mechanisms in place to vaccinate in schools.

“It is a programme we are going to work on with MECs and [school governing bodies] to ensure that when there is vaccination in schools there are certain protocols that are followed.”

Motshekga also encouraged education personnel to get their booster shots and those who have not yet vaccinated to do so.

She said about 80% of education personnel, including teachers, were already vaccinated.

READ: Educators are caught between a rock and a hard place regarding vaccination

The programme to encourage pupils and education personnel to vaccinate comes amid talks in some quarters in the education sector about leaners’ return to school on a full-time basis as opposed to the rotation system.

TimesLive reported on Monday that teacher unions would this week meet with Wits University vaccinology professor Shabir Madhi to discuss the modalities that are currently being used in schools, including the rotational timetable and whether they can still be used.

“We are in trouble when it comes to learning losses and we would like to see as many of our kids full-time at school as possible. But that can only happen if we ensure that safety measures are there,” Basil Manuel, executive director of the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of SA, told the publication.

ROTATIONAL SYSTEM STAYING

At the briefing, Motshekga said rotational timetabling was here to stay for the time being.

READ: A million Gauteng primary school pupils still on rotation system

“The fact of the matter is that Covid-19 is very much still with us and we need to continue to work together to fight it. We are exploring possibilities to return schooling to normal, but we need to do so responsibly. To this end, we rely entirely on the advice of public health experts, through the ministerial advisory committee, the national coronavirus command council and indeed Cabinet. At the right time we will come back to report on progress being made,” she said.

LATE ADMISSION OF LEARNERS

Provincial departments of education are yet to place thousands of learners in schools. This despite schools opening on Wednesday in inland provinces and next Wednesday in coastal provinces. The provinces with the largest number of learners that still need to be placed include the Free State, the Western Cape and the Northern Cape, according to a presentation by the education department.

In Gauteng, 276 030 pupils still need to be placed, 19 783 in the Western Cape, 86 553 in the Northern Cape and 17 712 in the Free State.

In a presentation, Simone Geyer, the deputy director-general responsible for provincial monitoring and delivery oversight, said some of the challenges that led to learners not being placed on time included late applications.

She also said it was parents who ignored the publishing of closing dates and those who leave rural communities for big cities at the beginning of the year who require space at schools.

“Informal settlements that spring up around established communities due to the influx from rural to urban areas also present a challenge as it is difficult to predict expected numbers ahead of the new year.”

Geyer said: 

This is particularly challenging in largely urban areas and impacts on a whole range of provisioning issues ranging from classroom space to teachers and textbooks.

Motshekga has appealed to parents to allow provinces to clear off and settle those pupils that have been admitted, and then identify any possible spaces to place those pupils who are yet to be placed.

She said: 

I know it is not very comfortable for parents to know that on [Wednesday], when other learners are going to school, their children are not going to school. But we are committing that by law we are compelled to find space for every child, so it is not their burden alone; it is our responsibility also to make sure that we find space for all the learners.

She also said parents must allow provinces to place learners where there is space and not where they prefer as their preference may be that of another parent, resulting in limited availability at preferred schools.

“We are aware that there are also schools that have reached their maximum capacity and further admissions are impossible at those schools.”


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Bongekile Macupe  

Senior Education Journalist

+27 11 713 9001
Bongekile.macupe@citypress.co.za
www.citypress.co.za
69 Kingsway Rd, Auckland Park

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