Unions call for schools in South Africa to close as third Covid-19 wave hits

The Educators Union of South Africa (EUSA) has called for the closure of schools across the country over concerns around rising Covid-19 cases.

With Gauteng, the Free State and the Eastern Cape having declared that they are in a third wave – the whole country will follow soon, the union said. The union claimed that schools are central to this resurgence as safety protocols have been ignored.

EUSA blamed the government’s failure to provide adequate personal protective equipment (PPEs), and that Covid-19 cases in the sector are not being adequately tracked and traced.

“We have long warned basic education to stop its obsession of going back to what was before Covid-19 and instead focus on building a new system that will be in line with 4IR and the new normal,” it said.

The push to close schools comes after the department of basic education announced this week that it would be postponing all contact sports over fears of a resurgence in cases.

“It is evident that despite following the protocols as guided by the directions on extramural activities and Standard Operating Procedure on the prevention, containment and management of Covid-19 in schools, contact sports events still contribute to the spread of Covid-19,” the department said.

“In this regard, all sporting activities have been suspended with immediate effect until the clusters outbreak is subsequently over with no further cases reported including the preparatory school sport.

“The Department will continue to monitor the situation. A government gazette will be issued with the notice in the coming days.”

School days lost

Education experts have already warned that the delayed 2021 school calendar, in combination with lost teaching time in 2020, is likely to have a significant impact on South African students.

After losing months of teaching time in 202 due to the Covid-19 lockdown, schools had a delayed start of a month in 2021 due to the resurgence of second Covid-19 wave.

In a briefing to parliament in January, the Department of Education’s director-general Mathanzima Mweli said that younger students are particularly at risk of forgetting about skills and knowledge acquired at school if they stop learning for extended periods of time.

“This creates a challenge of ‘accumulated gaps’ as they continue into further grades,” he said.

At the other end of the scale, Mweli said that the department was concerned about the grade 12 cohort of 2021, who lost significant teaching time as grade 11 pupils in 2020.

“We have narrowed the curriculum as part of a process known as ‘trimming’ which means that these students were not exposed to the full curriculum. However, in matric, they will be examined on the full contents of Grades 10, 11 and 12.

“The further delay of teaching this year places a huge burden on the system as we now not only have to catch up on Grade 12 content but also on the Grade 11 content which was lost last year. It is going to be extremely difficult for the education system to recover the learning losses.”

No decision taken yet

President Cyril Ramaphosa says that his government is actively tracking the possibility of a third Covid-19 wave in South Africa, but that it has not yet made a decision to introduce a harder lockdown.

Ramaphosa, who is currently on a state visit in France, told France24 said that there has been a clear increase in Covid-19 cases across the country.

“We are watching it very closely, and if (the third wave) comes, we are ready. The issue of a lockdown is something that will only be looked at depending on the severity of the third Covid-19 wave,” he said.

Ramaphosa said that the government was ‘gearing up measures’ in preparation for a third wave, but reiterated that a lockdown would only be looked at depending on how badly the country is hit by an influx in new cases.

On Wednesday (19 May), South Africa reported 3,522 new Covid-19 cases, taking the total reported to 1,621,362. Deaths have reached 55,507, while recoveries have climbed to 1,528,868, leaving the country with a balance of 36,987 active cases. The total number of vaccines administered is 558,170.

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Unions call for schools in South Africa to close as third Covid-19 wave hits