Schools should be allowed to open as and when they are ready and schools should pool their resources and their insights gained, writes the Executive Head at Redhill School Joseph Gerassi.
In all the confusion around the opening of schools, one thing remains clear – schools that can reasonably and responsibly open their doors to students should be permitted to do so.
In other words, South African schools should be phased in per SCHOOL and not per GRADE and this should start immediately!
This is a time for the Minister of Education to empower and lean on School Management Teams and School Governing Bodies to make the decision as to the readiness of their schools to open – as they are the most informed people as to the particular readiness of their school.
This is not a time for further government and union debates and delays but a time to get students back to the classroom.
It makes no sense whatsoever to keep schools closed when they are ready to continue the business of safely educating our children and moving our nation forwards.
This ‘phasing in per school’ will allow the minister and her team to focus their attention and resources on the schools that are not yet able to open. As and when each of those schools is in a position to safely open their gates – they should then do so.
Strategic plans and insights gained in these early days can then be passed on to other schools who can harness those learnings to improve their health and safety protocols from day one.
Many schools have worked 24/7 to ensure that they have met the government's regulations for opening schools.
Well worked strategic documents have been drawn up and carefully planned timetables have been put in place to accommodate students, depending on the composition, size and resources available.
What will happen, for example, to a school that has Grade 7 in the high school? Does this mean that they will have double the amount of students on their campus?
What will happen to well-prepared schools who don’t have Grade 7 in their primary school?
Will they have a school with no students attending? What will happen to small schools who only have 50 Grade 12 students? Will they have to keep Grade 10 and 11 students at home, while larger schools will be forced to accept over 200 Grade 12 students?
None of this makes sense, because it does not make sense to treat all schools the same!
As for the argument that this will further disadvantage those schools that are not well-resourced, those schools are already being disadvantaged.
Well-resourced schools continue to effectively deliver online learning to their students, while under-resourced schools are not equipped to educate their students remotely.
While children might be at a higher risk of getting the virus at school, and in poorer communities this is debatable, the additional risk of being infected at school, is outweighed by the possible benefits such as giving them access to much needed classroom teaching, where online teaching is not available, and access to nutrition in the form of school lunches, where this is not necessarily available at home.
It can also be argued that for many students, school is a safer place for them to spend their days instead of being in overcrowded living conditions at home, without adult supervision, as parents and caregivers start to return to work under phase 3 of our lockdown.
My comments are made taking into account the most recent research available, showing that children are less likely to get sick if infected, have milder symptoms and are unlikely to die.
Let our schools open as and when they are ready – let our schools pool their resources and insights gained – let’s get our children back to school as soon as possible. It’s their right, our responsibility and it makes sense!
- Joseph Gerassi is the Executive Head at Redhill School in Johannesburg. This commentary was first posted on his Facebook page.