Schools reopening: Yes or No?
28 May 2020
While researching this article, I decided to seek the advice of my five-year old grandchildren, Thomas and Keira on a video call. Both of them are in Grade 0 at two Johannesburg schools.
Keira was definite: She said, “No Grandpa, I love the Lockdown. I don’t want the school to open, except I do like the wishing well and the monkey bars.”
Thomas was even more definite. “I want the school to open so we can hug our friends and learn things.” He added, to my amazement, that the sooner we moved from Level 4 to Level 1, the better. “If people would listen to the president, we might get there quicker.” When reminded that the regulations must be sensible, he said the exercising rules were silly. He wants to go running 3 times a day. He also said that he hates smoking but people must be allowed to buy cigarettes and alcohol. There you have it, the wisdom of a 5-year-old.
Mmusi Maimane, who had disappeared almost out of sight, injected himself into public consciousness by launching a petition, calling for the schools to stay closed for the next 3 months. We are told that 300,000 people have signed the petition. In my view, they are wrong.
I think the schools should reopen on a gradual basis. Our children are hardly at risk. Only one death has been reported in the age group 0 – 19 (that of a premature baby with major breathing problems) and 1 in the age group 20-29. It is older people with underlying co-morbidities who are most at risk. Every death is tragic for the loved ones of the deceased, but millions of children are being kept from school in areas where it is impossible to observe the Lockdown rules and as business reopens, it is becoming increasingly difficult for parents to manage and keep safe their children, many of whom are roaming the streets, some of them getting up to mischief. I believe in the old saying, “The Devil finds work for idle hands.”
All of the teachers’ unions seem to be united on the question of staying closed. The reason appears to be that they maintain that the schools are not ready to reopen because they have not been cleaned and sanitised. If that is so, then of course uncleaned schools should remain closed while the education authorities carry out their obligations and promises about the provision of Personal Protection Equipment, cleaning, the maintaining of sensible regulations relating to social distancing, over-crowding, transport and the like. Those that are ready should open.
Both Education Minister Angie Motshekga and MEC Panyaza Lesufi have dismissed allegations of unreadiness. Minister Motshekga has said there should be no drama about the reopening of schools and Mr Lesufi has detailed at length the steps that have been and will be taken to protect our children and the educators. One is aware that neither of these politicians has a record of delivering promptly and efficiently, but unless they are misleading the public, one must surely accept them at their word.
If it turns out that the schools are not ready, both these politicians will have a lot to answer for but if they deliver this time, they will have done the right thing in moving towards a controlled and gradual reopening that is surely in the educational interests of our children. We do not want millions of children to miss a school year for no good reason.
Douglas Gibson is a former opposition chief whip and a former ambassador to Thailand. His Website is: douglasgibsonsouthafrica.com
This article first appeared in The Star