Keep schools open because 'nobody knows when peak will end', says Fedsas amid Covid-19 uncertainty

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Teacher at Popohedi Primary School wearing her PPE, a mask and a shield (Canny Maphanga, News24)
Teacher at Popohedi Primary School wearing her PPE, a mask and a shield (Canny Maphanga, News24)
  • Consultations between the education department and stakeholders continue as pupils wait to hear whether they should stay home or not amid the Covid-19 peak.
  • Minister Angie Motshekga has already met with school governing body associations and principals.
  • SGB association Fedsas is against the closure stating that the end to Covid-19 peak is unknown. 

While consultations continue between the Department of Basic Education (DBE) and stakeholders regarding whether schools should close or remain open during the Covid-19 peak, the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools (Fedsas) is of the view there is no need for a shutdown.

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Fedsas was among the stakeholders who met with Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga on Thursday as part of her series of consultations in the sector.

The consultations come amid calls that schools close, at least until the country has passed the peak of Covid-19 infections. 

Among those who were part of Thursday's consultations were principals and special needs school associations.

But Fedsas CEO Paul Colditz told News24 the organisation was of the view there was no need for a closure because no one knew when the peak would end.

READ | 'Schools remain open until further notice', says education dept as sector meetings announced

"Nobody knows when the peak will be ending. It can be very late this year, it can be next year and it can be up until a point when we have a vaccine. We can't plan based on an uncertainty," Colditz said.

"Secondly, if schools must close, why do hospitals, shops and supermarkets and police stations remain open? Every South African is subject to risk and those most at risk are the healthworkers. We expect of them to work but we say because of fear and anxiety, we don't want to work or we can't work." 

He added Fedsas believed it was in the interest of children that schools continued under safe and healthy conditions, because "science tells it is much better for children to be at school than at home or in the streets".

Colditz said there were many factors to consider when it came to schools, including psychosocial and nutritional programmes, which were much easier to implement when done in a controlled environment.

He said pupils and teachers were being infected in communities and not only on school premises. 

Input

According to DBE spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga, Motshekga was on Friday expected to meet with civil society organisations from 09:00, teacher unions at 14:00 and then the Heads of Education Departments Committee (Hedcom) at 17:00.

The consultations would conclude on Saturday, when the minister will meet with the Council of Education Ministers (CEM) before she will go to the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) and Cabinet.

Mhlanga told News24 one item was on the agenda – the possible closure of schools amid the Covid-19 peak.

He said Motshekga was receiving input on whether there should be a closure or not from all stakeholders and was considering options put forward.

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

"[We're] also having research organisations like Unicef who are also saying: 'This is what research is telling us,' Equal Education who say 'Our focus area is as follows and this is our view.' And we also have private schools coming to say: 'This is the business we are involved in and this is our view,'" Mhlanga said.

"They [the stakeholders] are assisting her [Motshekga] with input that we will then take forward to CEM [on Saturday] and convert CEM discussions into proposals for Cabinet at the weekend. That's the criteria," Mhlanga told News24.

Mhlanga said the department was generally not giving running commentary on the consultations because final decisions were made by the NCCC and eventually Cabinet.

Legal action

Colditz told News24 they were aware that other stakeholders held different views.

He said he hoped if a decision was made that schools should close, provision would be made for those feeling safe to remain open.

"Millions of parents are affected by the closure of schools and they want their children back at schools. That's what parents are telling us [Fedsas]. I am sure that there may be legal action from somewhere if Cabinet decides over the weekend to close the schools," Colditz said.

The country's biggest teachers' unions Sadtu and Naptosa have been among the organisations that have resolved that schools should close while infections surge.

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