KwaZulu-Natal Education MEC Kwazi Mshengu said on Monday that 4 400 of the province’s 6 000 schools were ready to reopen.
He was speaking during a visit to Insika High in Mpumuza, which is one of the 45 schools in uMgungundlovu that are not ready to reopen.
School governing body chairperson Sibusiso Ntuli said the district’s Department of Education (DOE) office has been aware of the water and infrastructure issues for years and has done nothing to address them.
Lack of water, unhygienic toilets and PPE shortages are some of the issues that led to the postponement of the reopening of schools this week.
Mshengu said he could tell that there were challenges the moment he entered the premises as there was not even a security guard to screen him for Covid-19 symptoms at the gate.
He was then told of myriad of other issues, including the lack of water, shortage of PPE, a leaking roof, broken doors and unhygienic toilets. “When I got here the principal indicated that they had a problem of water. The person who was appointed to put the static tank only came today to deliver. We’ve made an arrangement with the deputy mayor of the district (Sibongile Dlamini) to make sure that immediately after finishing installing the static tank the provision of water will be made.”
Mshengu said he also found out that Insika had received only one mask per pupil when the DOE had made provision for two per person. The outstanding masks were only delivered after he raised questions.
He said the ablution facilities needed immediate attention as the open pit latrines were in a state of disrepair.
“By the end of today there should be chemical mobile toilets supplied to the school,” he said.
Mshengu said he would engage the Department of Public works about renovations. Insika was apparently neglected after it was declared a non-viable school due for closure.
“I don’t support the closure of the school. This school is at the centre of the community. We can’t keep up with the pace of building schools if we are closing schools unnecessarily,” said Mshengu.
While Ntuli agreed with Mshengu that the school should not be closed, he accused the department of being a contributor to its state of disrepair.
He said numerous requests were made over the years for water, toilets and a new roof but they were all ignored.
“We have an enrolment of 490 pupils so the allocation that we get from government is not enough for us to do any repairs ourselves.
“That’s why you see classrooms with no door or windows. Winter is the most dreadful time for our children but they have no option because this is the school closest to their homes.”
Ntuli feared that the static tank would not be regularly supplied by the municipality, which would leave the school waterless for days or even weeks.
He also expressed his concern about the lack of a security guard at Insika, saying it was the reason people were not screened at the gate as the MEC had observed. He said this could also result in the PPE being stolen.
Mshengu said the Department of Health had deployed 10 000 community caregivers to do screening at schools, and the Department of Social Development had also provided DOE with 2 000 caregivers to assist.
He said the DOE was also recruiting 6 000 young people who would also be trained to do screenings at schools.
Mshengu said he would be spending the rest of the week visiting other parts of the province to assess the situation in the schools that were declared not ready for reopening so that DOE could make necessary interventions to prepare for June 8.
While he was optimistic that all the bottlenecks would be cleared before Monday, Mshengu said the department would not force the reopening of schools that are still not ready by then.
On preparedness for dealing with confirmed Covid-19 cases once classes resume, Mshengu said affected schools would be closed pending the sanitisation of the facilities. This could see some of the pupils being sent to continue with their lessons at neighbouring schools.
Meanwhile schools like the Maritzburg College had some of their pupils returning home yesterday due to the eleventh hour postponement of the reopening of schools
College’s marketing head Sally Upfold said they received 103 boarders on Sunday, but most went back home yesterday.
The school was amongst those that were ready to resume classes yesterday as all their health protocols were in place including marking the floors to ensure social distancing and the creation of isolation areas.
“The inconvenience is to our boys who are eager to resume their studies and get back to normal lessons as soon as possible, and to our parents who need to make arrangements around travel to get the boys back,” said Upfold.
She said they would wait for clear instructions from the Department of Education as to when they are permitted to begin normal lessons.
“For much of the lockdown period our teachers have been actively busy providing online learning for our boys across all the grades using a range of platforms including Microsoft Teams and our school Moodle. This is continuing and will do so until such time as all our boys are back on campus.”