Equal Education (EE) high school members and teachers have raised concerns about the impact the national Covid-19 lockdown has had on them and their fears around the phased re-opening of schools.
The movement said while it was relieved schools would be re-opening at a later stage, it believed plans by the department of basic education were a cause for concern and had caused more confusion.
Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga has outlined the department’s plans about recovering the academic year after schools closed on 18 March following President Cyril Ramaphosa’s declaration of a national state of disaster.
Motshekga said the department would use the month of May to ensure schools were safe and compliant with Covid-19 regulations before allowing for the return of teachers and pupils.
This includes that classrooms are sanitised, personal protective equipment is made available and infrastructure issues are attended to.
In a statement released on Wednesday, EE’s general-secretary, Noncedo Madubedube, said briefings by the department have received strong reactions from the public, confusing many.
EE high school members from five provinces raised concerns of lagging behind with schoolwork, access to school nutrition, overcrowded classrooms, poor state of toilets and lack of water at their schools.
“I think I’ve lost a few kilos because I don’t get enough food, mostly it has affected me emotionally and mentally because I can’t study with an empty stomach, let alone do anything at all,” a pupil from Gauteng was quoted in the statement.
The pupils said they were starving at home and things were easier when they were able to get access to food at school.
Other members of the movement from the Eastern Cape said it was emotionally draining to be hungry at home.
They added they were unable to get food parcels because the government “clearly stated that it’s for those without any source of income at all, including those who depend on Sassa as well.”
“It’s a struggle for me and my family as we don’t have enough food to sustain us throughout the lockdown, even for a single month because we depend on one source of income [my father]. That makes it worse during this lockdown, we spend most of our time indoors,” a pupil said.
The department said more than 3,000 schools were in need of water supply and it would be working towards ensuring it was provided to ensure hygiene was adhered to at the schools.
EE said all these promises should be implemented, not just planned.
“As much as I want to go back to school, it’s not safe for everyone. The infrastructure we have, my class doesn’t even have a door. The sanitation? Everything in the girls’ toilets is a mess and we are overcrowded,” an Eastern Cape pupil said.
Another from KwaZulu-Natal said: “In our school, we only have one tap, and that tap sometimes doesn’t provide water. The condition of toilets is another story. They aren’t clean – actually there’s no hygiene. If the whole school resumes classes, they’ll be overcrowded but if it’ll be matric only, there’s enough space.”
Teachers have also raised their own concerns on how difficult it would be for them to ensure social distancing is adhered to in their crowded classroom.
Last week, the department’s director-general, Mathanzima Mweli, presented the plan to parliament and said among the measures to ensure social distancing in classrooms was that they should not exceed 40 pupils.
But teachers said most of the schools where it would be difficult to adhere to were those in the townships, which were mostly affected by overcrowding.
“We all want to go back to classes so that teaching and learning can continue and we can finish the curriculum but there is fear of how we are going to maintain ‘social distancing’ because schools that are in townships have the problem of overcrowding.
“It is the big issue that we are facing as teachers and learners, for example in a class of about 50 learners it is difficult to move around and engage all learners so that we can have a proper lesson,” student teacher and EE national council post-school youth representative Siphosethu Mgqibise said.
A Western Cape teacher, Andile Ngqweya, added: “I really don’t mind going back to school. However, I have 45 learners in my class alone. There is just no way I can have them practice social distancing while some learners don’t have desks and chairs. Some have to share a desk as three learners.
“Furthermore, our computer lab does not accommodate learners individually on the computers they have to share because of their numbers.
“Because it is a primary school, it will be challenging for us to monitor them [for social distancing] when on the playground.
“The department proposals … it’s confusing. Let alone the implementation. It’s extremely difficult for us who are working in one of the most disadvantaged communities of Khayelitsha. Some parents are reluctant to send their kids back until the risk is zero.”
EE members have called on the department to among others:
- Have a clear communication strategy which would avoid confusion.
- Present plans to the public on the implications of the phased re-opening of schools and nutrition programme – both for pupils returning to school and those remaining at home.
- Make public comprehensive plans explaining which schools were being provided with emergency water and toilets.
“Motshekga has promised smaller class sizes, but has not inspired confidence around its implementation. She must explain how many additional teachers will be appointed in each province, and whether the 400 additional classrooms procured, are enough to meet the actual need.”