Schools plagued with concerns over safe reopening – Bax Nodada

DA MP says schools should decide individually whether it is safe to reopen

Schools plagued with concerns over safe reopening; DBE has 1 week to step in

7 February 2021

See photos of Baxolile Nodada MP on oversight hereherehere and here. Soundbite can be found here.

With only two weeks to go before schools reopen, there is still a lot of concerns regarding school readiness in the provinces, that the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Basic Education visited during its oversight to KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape and Gauteng this week.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) therefore calls on the Department of Basic Education (DBE) to get its house in order in ensuring schools safely reopen for learners on the 15th of February.

The reality is that the DBE had the whole of the December holiday and an extra two weeks to address any issues regarding the safe reopening of schools in provinces, and as such the reopening cannot be delayed any longer. Children need an education and the longer they remain out of classrooms, the poorer the quality of education will inevitably be. The DA does however believe that schools should only open if they are able to do so safely, but that this should be determined by individual schools and not on a national level.

The DA found serious concerns during the oversight visits, with the provinces all facing similar problems:

Water and sanitation: Many of the schools do not have proper (or any) access to clean water and sanitation. That this should still be a concern in 2021 is simply shocking. The world is suffering at the hands of a pandemic, the main defence against which is cleanliness. And the learners and personnel does not even have access to a basic human right that is also their first line of defence against Covid-19. This is beyond shameful.

Mud and asbestos schools: Infrastructure development at schools is woefully inadequate with many classrooms built with dangerous materials like asbestos. The department of environmental affairs has closed some of these schools simply because they are not safe for learners. There are also not enough classrooms in some instances to adequately cater to the number of children in each class. Safe social distancing in these schools is not possible.

Validation of PPE: Schools are not able to validate the quality of the personal protective equipment (PPE) they receive thereby putting learners and personnel at risk of infection.

Vandalism: Schools have been the target of those venting their frustration and anger at government. Many schools have been left in such disrepair that it cannot be used at all, or left with damage limiting the safe space in which learners can congregate to receive tutelage. The department is failing to simply allocate a security guard in some schools, with ridiculously poor excuses to perform this simple function. Yet over 400 schools have been vandalized and 62 disasters have occurred across just 3 provinces.

Learner Transport: Over 120 000 eligible learners for this service, just in one province, can’t access learner transport for them to access education and therefore have to walk ridiculous distances to schools and in many instances is a cause of the massive dropout rate throughout the years of schooling.

Infrastructure Maintenance: Maintenance of infrastructure is poor, with schools in these areas having inadequate budgets being sent, despite such shocking conditions.

Furthermore, some provinces have up to over 800 special needs learners that are not assessed nor placed in schools, with their future doomed and some losing their lives without accessing education.

Every province has complained about the 3-month nonpayment of Educator Assistance with no set date of paying these young people.

These and the many other concerns can only be addressed if DBE forges closer relationships with the schools. The Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, needs to put the needs of the learners first and that includes building environments that makes them eager to learn and succeed while also ensuring their safety.

It is DBE’s mandate to ensure relevant quality education for all learners in South Africa and keeping schools from reopening is not only against this mandate, it also does not seem to address the problem of readying the schools as problems persist and will likely continue to do so until the Department truly decides to address them and work closely with the individual schools that need assistance.

The DA will continue to monitor the situation on the ground and will perform another round of oversight visits once schools reopen.

Issued by Bax Nodada, Shadow Minister of Basic Education, 7 February 2021