Letter to the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga

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I write to you as a very concerned citizen regarding the proposed opening of schools for the new academic year, upon which you have both discretion and directive as vested by the authority of your ministerialship.

There can be no doubt that any nation’s power lies with the wealth and strength of its educational system and the proper execution.

However, we are engaged in real times of trouble as the Covid-19 pandemic rages, spiralling infections daily and causing deaths across the country by the hundreds.

I am not opposed to the burden that you shoulder in attempting to create a viable balance between the safety of pupils, educators and additional staff on the one hand, and the promotion and continuance of education on the other.

In your attempt to assuage all the relevant players, there will be decisions that may not augur well with some – but decisions will have to be made.

Perhaps the most critical of all is the opening of schools for the new academic year.

I believe that this process should and must be delayed until a proper assessment can be done by the science and medical fraternity with regards to the trajectory of the virus as it continues on its marauding path.

By nature, school children are not exactly compliant in terms of the protocols and procedures required to mitigate and contain the virus.

Further, many schools do not have the required facilities or space or staff to re-align a workable model that accommodates social distancing as is necessary.

As children in gatherings at school, this is critical and may become infected and may present as asymptomatic but can become the cesspool for spread to their family at home, or friends post-school.

All this will do is perpetuate the vicious cycle of unmitigated spread.

I can understand that my appeal will have associated collateral damage and cost in terms of time lost, curricula incomplete, and salaries to be paid.

But the counsel of your scientists and medical personnel would have advised that this virus has shown mutations creating variant forms which has resulted in the faster spread.

The possibility of further mutations cannot be ruled out once we enter autumn and winter again, which could have even dire consequences, should another variant emerge – even more virulent than its predecessor.

The “poorer” schools are disadvantaged by the lack of adequate facilities. While aware of prescribed protocols that must be followed, educators are virtually powerless outside the classroom as interactions become random and unsupervised.

All that is required is just one asymptomatic pupil to mingle with friends. Then a vicious domino effect starts again – and containment becomes a nightmare – but more importantly, the proliferation of the virus becomes unstoppable.

The epidemiology of the Covid-19 virus is still under investigation the world over as patterns change, and South Africa has become the continent’s hotspot so any decision to re-open schools must be circumspect, not for want of “producing” results, but for the safety of all concerned and the country as a whole.

I urge you and the Ministry of Education to delay the new academic year until it is reasonable and advised consensus on safety so that we, in effect, can help fight the spread of the virus and in so doing save lives.

It is my sincere wish that this correspondence will find favour in your impending decisions, and I wish you well.

By Narendh Ganesh.