Since the start of the lockdown in May 2020, 409 teachers, 55 non-teaching staff and 10 pupils have lost their lives to Covid-19.
The Department of Basic Education presented these figures to a joint meeting of the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education and the Select Committee on Education and Technology, Sports, Arts and Culture on Wednesday evening.
The presentation dealt with the rationale for postponing the start of the academic year by two weeks to 15 February, and a progress report on the marking of matric scripts.
Director-General of Basic Education Mathanzima Mweli said the Ministry of Health had reported that health institutions and services were overstretched due to the second wave of the pandemic.
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“They requested that as part of providing some relief to the struggling health institutions and services, basic education should delay the reopening of schools [by] two weeks,” read Mweli’s presentation.
Mweli said a break in the school year will have “serious ramifications” for pupils, particularly those in lower grades.
While hospitalisations per week have risen during the second wave, the number for children remains low, with around 25 hospitalisations per week for those aged 5 to 9 and 10 to 14.
These numbers have barely changed.
Similarly, deaths have risen in the second wave, but the number for children remains low – for example, around 0.6 deaths per week for those aged 5 to 9 and 10 to 14.
The percentage of all deaths in a particular age group has not changed significantly between August and December. Probabilities for children remain especially low. Someone aged 50 to 54 is 856 times more likely to die than someone aged 5 to 9.
Since lockdown began in March last year, 5,663 pupils, 16,495 teachers and 3,123 non-teaching staff were infected. The Free State is the province with the most pupils infected, with 1,739, followed by Gauteng with 933. The Eastern Cape had the most staff infected.
The Eastern Cape also had the highest number of deaths of teachers with 151, followed by the Western Cape with 91.
Mweli provided a timeline of all consultations the department had with stakeholders. There was general support for a postponement, except school governing body associations, who believed children were better off in school. However, after the department announced the postponement, they expressed their support, according to Mweli.
“From a human point of view, we agree with that decision [to postpone the opening of schools],” chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education Bongiwe Mbinqo-Gigaba said.
She said the reality is that Covid-19 is here and it has touched everybody’s lives.
“If we can save people, even if it means a delay, all of us would agree with that.”
The presentation on the marking of matric scripts repeated information that was provided at a media briefing earlier on Wednesday.