Government to decide on closing all schools in South Africa: report

South Africa’s five major teacher unions have called for the immediate closure of all schools as coronavirus cases continue to surge.

This, they said, must apply to all grades until the end of August, which is when Covid-19 infections are expected to peak, the Sunday Times reported.

The unions said in a proposal document, that matric students should return on 17 August and that these students should be assisted in various ways while learning from home.

Other grades should only return at the end of August, subject to a review based on the development of the virus, the unions said.

Basic Education minister Angie Motshekga will now discuss these proposals with the cabinet, the paper reports.

Education spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga confirmed to the Sunday Times that a meeting of the Council of Education Ministers took place on Saturday (18 July). He said the ministers’ engagement will be ‘announced in due course’.

“We wish to reiterate that it is the cabinet that will make the decision on whether schools close or remain open,” he said.

Minister Motshekga said this week that around 16,000 teachers have comorbidities, putting them at greater risk should they contract Covid-19.

Meanwhile several teachers have already died from the virus, while hundreds of schools have been forced to close since 8 June, when most Grade 7 and 12 pupils returned to their classrooms.

Ramaphosa

President Cyril Ramaphosa has acknowledged the call to close the country’s schools, and has indicated that doing so might be international best practice.

Speaking in a virtual Presidential Imbizo on the coronavirus on Wednesday evening (15 July), Ramaphosa confirmed that the government is in talks with industry stakeholders.

The president said that the matter is of ‘great debate’ and noted that a number of teachers unions have called for schools to be closed based on ‘lived experiences’.

“It is a matter that is now being debated and being discussed with the respective organisations and it will be given consideration by the National Coronavirus Command Council as well.”

Ramaphosa was also asked why the government allowed schools to open, while prohibiting gatherings of more than 50 people.

The president said that the government did not really consider classrooms ‘gatherings’, and insisted that there should safe distancing rules in place.

Notwithstanding this, Ramaphosa acknowledged that a number of teachers and learners have become infected.

“The World Health Organisation has cautioned that in countries where there is still a rise in infections, it would not be wise to reopen schools.

“There has also been a clear voice and message from teacher unions and we will also listen and engage and we are discussing this matter. In our typical consultative way, we will come up with a way forward on the issue of schools.”


Read: Ramaphosa on South Africa’s big issues – including closing schools and why it’s not a ‘ban’ on alcohol

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Government to decide on closing all schools in South Africa: report