Covid-19: Human Rights Commission supports children going back to school

  • The SA Human Rights Commission says it supports children being in school.
  • The commission said that in making its decision it considered social, economic and health factors. 
  • Pupils, meanwhile, have to wait before hearing whether they should stay home amid the Covid-19 peak, as the department engages stakeholders.

The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) supports children going back to school during the Covid-19 pandemic, it said in a statement.

In the statement released on Wednesday, the commission said it supported Unicef's position that pupils return to schools as soon as possible because "evidence points to harm being done to children by not being in school".

The commission said its position to support children going back to school was based on, among other factors, the fact that by the end of July, depending on the grade pupils were in, children would have lost between 20% and 50% of scheduled school days because of the pandemic. 

It also considered the social, economic and health costs of school closures during the three highest levels of lockdown, including increases in hunger and malnutrition.

"For many poor children the meal they get at school constitutes a high percentage of total food they receive daily. Poor children are not being screened for diseases which kill thousands of South Africans annually and severely compromise many more, notably TB and HIV," the commission said.

READ | Reopening of schools under discussion, Ramaphosa and govt to engage with stakeholders

The Chapter 9 institution recently conducted an electronic survey of public schools in the country on their readiness to receive additional pupils.

It received 4 485 responses, representing close to 20% of the country's schools. 

The poll found that over 90% of the schools surveyed reported that all pupils wore masks at schools, while 95% of them reported staff also wearing masks. 

"The percentage of responding schools reporting running water ranged from 47% (Eastern Cape) to 99% (Western Cape). In three provinces, over 90% of schools reported having running water (Gauteng, Northern Cape and Western Cape). The remaining provinces reported as follows: KZN (59%); Mpumalanga (78%); Limpopo (74%); Eastern Cape (47%); Free State (89%) and North West (89%)."

The commission said its poll also found that over 95% of the schools which responded reported there were screening processes in place. 

It added that 64% of schools which took part also reported that they were being monitored by provincial officials. 

Access to learning material, running water in some provinces, and planning for the return of other grades were still some of the areas the commission said it was concerned about and would be monitoring between 8 July and 30 August. 

The closure of schools amid a surge in infections has been a contentious national talking point, with some experts, organisations and unions calling for schools to be closed until at least after the pandemic had peaked.

Equally, other groups and individuals have been calling for schools to remain open, citing research which suggests children are not high risk spreaders (or vectors) of the virus while they are also at lower risk of developing severe symptoms.

Among some of the teacher unions that have called for the closure is the South African Democratic Teachers Union and the National Professional Teachers' Organisation of SA.  

On Wednesday, the Department of Basic Education announced that schools remained open until further notice, as Minister Angie Motshekga was engaging with stakeholders in the sector.

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