Education must be balanced with safety and the clock is ticking for Free State schools

Issued by Mariette Pittaway MPL – DA Whip of the Official Opposition in the Free State Legislature
13 May 2020 in Press Statements

Just as lives must be balanced with livelihoods during the Covid-19 pandemic, so too must education be balanced with safety at our schools. For many learners a school leaving certificate is a ticket to an opportunity to acquire a livelihood. Free State schools must open, but only when they comply with the necessary Covid-19 safety requirements to do so.

It is clear from correspondence sent to schools by the Free State Head of the Department of Education (HOD), Adv Malakoane, that schools are not yet ready to accept learners as well as support and teaching staff. In his letter dated 7 May 2020 to his Department and all schools, the HOD indicates that Treasury have not yet supplied the necessary Basic and Essential Sanitation and Hygiene Packages to schools.

The President and the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) laid down clear requirements and pre-conditions for the re-opening of schools with the instruction that if schools do not meet the requirements 100% they must not open.

Preparing of schools for the return of the scholars includes:

  • Deep cleansing and disinfection of school buildings, classrooms and especially water and sanitation facilities;
  • Ensuring all schools have running water and sanitation (currently there are 48 public schools and 108 farm schools in the Free State that do not have acceptable ablution facilities);
  • The creation of space for children’s desks to adhere to social distancing;
  • Training of teachers and staff on COVID-19 and screening;
  • Consideration of the specific needs of children with disabilities; and
  • Ensuring increased air flow and ventilation in classrooms.

Once schools do re-open, it is important to maintain a safe environment, which includes:

  • Cleaning and disinfecting of schools at least once a day, particularly surfaces that are frequently touched (railings, tables, sports equipment, door and window handles, teaching and learning aids etc.);
  • Establishing procedures if students or staff become unwell;
  • Promoting regular hand washing and positive hygiene behaviours;
  • The implementation of social distancing practices that may include cancelling assemblies, sports games and other events; and
  • Limiting movement of learners between classes.

If the first phase of re-opening of schools in the Free State is for grades 7 and 12, then it means 90 507 learners will go back to 1 047 schools by 1 June 2020. It appears, however, that the Free State may not be compliant by this deadline, in which case the Department must announce what steps will be taken to ensure that these learners are prepared for their final examinations.

The DA has submitted questions to both the MECs of Education, Tate Makgoe and for Finance, Gadija Brown in the Legislature to determine the readiness and preparation of the Free State for the re-opening of schools.

We must ensure that learners, staff of vulnerable family members do not become victims of the Coronavirus, but at the same time they must not become victims of a lethargic government. The clock is ticking for the Department of Education in the Free State, and it is already five minutes to midnight.

Please click here for the DA’s directions on how we should safely open our schools in this time of crisis.