Children’s safety is our foremost priority – Ramaphosa

Cyril Ramaphosa
Cyril Ramaphosa

As Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga on Sunday called off Monday’s reopening of schools, President Cyril Ramaphosa was putting the finishing touches to his weekly newsletter. The topic? International Day for Protection of Children.

As Ramaphosa pointed out, it was also the UN Global Day of Parents, honouring the commitment of parents and caregivers to the well-being of children.

Ramaphosa said that the decision for children to return to school was a “complex and challenging task”.

He said that the government had had extensive and detailed discussions with all role-players in the education sphere. And these guided the state’s approach.

“Now, in the last few days, several of these stakeholders – including teachers and parents – have expressed concern about the state of readiness in many schools. We have heard them, we welcome their contributions and are taking steps to address their concerns as well as proposals,” he said.

Read: Schools not ready for reopening on Monday

He said it was understandable that many parents and caregivers had mixed emotions about the reopening of schools.

“There is relief that children will be able to resume their education after a prolonged absence from classrooms and lecture halls. Young people are eager to be in school again and to see friends and teachers.

But there is also apprehension on the part of parents, educators and learners themselves,” Ramaphosa said.

“Parents want reassurance that the necessary precautions should be in place to adequately protect learners. The safety of our youngest citizens from a health and physical perspective is not negotiable. It is our foremost priority.”

Ramaphosa said that, as the country prepared for the gradual re-opening of schools and places of higher learning, education authorities were hard at work putting the necessary health and safety measures in place. Documentation regarding standard operating procedures had been provided to all schools.

“These standard operating procedures cover issues like training and orientation of screeners, timetable realignment and configuring classrooms to meet social distancing requirements.

“We are continuing with the process of delivering personal protective equipment and ensuring the availability of water and sanitation services. Learning, once it commences, will take place under strict conditions with a correctly limited number of learners and students,” he said.

Ramaphosa said that there was agreement from parents, teachers, governing bodies and government that no school should re-open until all the necessary precautions are in place.

Read: Opening schools so soon is 'reckless'

“There needs to be transparency about the level of preparedness of each of the schools. Everyone who is a key role player, be they a parent, a school governing body member, a teacher or a government official should be able to have the correct information about the state of preparedness of each school. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that the learning environment is safe.”

Once the lockdown is lifted and more pupils return to school, Ramaphosa called on parents to continue to play a more active role in the education of the country’s children, whether it was through joining school governing bodies, volunteering their services at schools or other forms of assistance.

“Though we may feel anxious and fearful as our sons and daughters leave our care, we must draw courage from the fact that every effort is being made to protect them.

“As parents, you have entrusted us with the welfare and safety of your children. It is a responsibility we do not take lightly. In the days and weeks to come, we will be closely monitoring the return to school,” he said.

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July 2020

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