Delay the reopening of schools and focus on building marginalised communities, says education expert

Fumigation at Rhodesfield Technical High School in Kempton Park in preparation of the Opening of schools under Level 3 Lockdown. [Photo: GCIS]
Fumigation at Rhodesfield Technical High School in Kempton Park in preparation of the Opening of schools under Level 3 Lockdown. [Photo: GCIS]
  • One education expert says there is no point in reopening schools if some lack water and toilets.
  • Another expert says the government should focus on building schools in marginalised communities.
  • South African schools are unequal and the government should make an effort to better resource schools, say experts.

While some education experts agree challenges facing the country's schooling system disadvantages some pupils more than others, they are at odds on whether to reopen schools or not.    

News24 spoke to four experts this week, with one saying there was no point in reopening schools if some of them lacked resources.

READ | Large quantities of PPEs earmarked for KZN schools have 'disappeared'

But another expert said schools should reopen on 8 June, adding the education department should meet its promises by ensuring struggling schools were ready.    

Pupils were set to return on Monday after schools were closed in mid-March due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

And on Sunday, the department announced it had decided they would not reopen on Monday, saying pupils would only return from 8 June.

During a briefing in Rustenburg, North West, on Monday, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga said reports given to the department indicated schools across the country were on different levels of readiness, leading to her decision to postpone the return of pupils to schools until next week.

A professor of higher education and head of the School of Education at Wits University, Felix Maringe, told News24 on Monday there was no point in reopening schools if some of them still did not have running water or toilets.


"The focus right now should be to try and develop schools in marginalised communities. My view would be that it may be best to delay the reopening of schools." 

Maringe said schools across the country were still unequal, adding what the government could do was to redouble efforts towards making schools better resourced.

However, Section27's Faranaaz Veriava supported the return to teaching, saying the department had already made promises to provide certain essentials to schools.

"They [the department] mentioned PPE [personal protective equipment] and they mentioned mobile toilets for schools without toilets, water tanks to schools without water and sanitation.

READ | Blanket reopening of schools was risky - Motshekga on why she backtracked

"So, what they were supposed to do was to make sure that all schools are ready. They have failed to do this."

Veriava said the department's failure to prepare in time was unfair on two groups - those schools which have been working around the clock to prepare to resume on-site teaching, and to the poorer, struggling schools which were promised help.

"We should not be equalising downwards by saying because all schools are not ready, we shouldn't be open.

"Our focus should be on getting schools that are not ready to open and the department promised that they would do that. The focus should be to hold the department to account."


Another education expert and former education MEC, Professor Mary Metcalfe, said if the country had a cohort of pupils who were rushed back into classrooms to cram learning into what was left of the year to pass the grade then there would be manifest inequalities.

"But if we have a conception of learners returning to schools that have met the criteria for safety in order for them to have opportunities to learn, opportunities to interact socially, opportunities to access the school nutrition programme, to get education regarding the [Covid-19] virus and how to protect self and others … then I would like to see as many children as possible going back."

READ | SAHRC threatens to sue Mothekga, Schäfer over schools reopening

Dr Nic Spaull, a senior researcher in the Economics Department at Stellenbosch University, said he did not think it was feasible to say that "until every school is ready then no school can go back".

"I'm not sure of the legality of it but I imagine it's also not legal to prevent Western Cape schools returning if they are ready only because schools in Limpopo are not ready.

I don't think it's feasible to say until every school is ready then no school can go back
Nic Spaull, education analyst

"There are over 20% of schools in South Africa that have no running water. Unfortunately, we will not be able to fix in the next week what we haven't managed to do in the last 20 years," added Spaull on Tuesday.

"Covid-19 is an opportunity for South Africans to reflect and acknowledge that in 25 years of democracy we have not managed to provide all schools with basic infrastructure like running water, electricity, and safe toilet facilities.

"For whatever reason in 2017, 26% of schools did not have running water and 12% did not have electricity. This is unacceptable and points to the government's inability to resolve this issue despite numerous presidents and ministers of education saying they will provide the basics to all schools."

Meanwhile, teachers' unions have called on schools not to reopen following the government's last-minute one-week postponement of the resumption of classes for Grade 7 and 12 pupils.The unions and school governing bodies believe it is not in the best interests of pupils and teachers to return to school while there is uncertainty about health and safety.

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