Sunday Times

Call for return of all primary schoolkids


● The department of basic education is considerin­g allowing all primary school pupils to return to class full-time because they are less likely to be hospitalis­ed or die from Covid-19 complicati­ons.

Department spokespers­on Elijah Mhlanga said director-general Mathanzima Mweli and provincial education heads will discuss the idea at a workshop tomorrow.

Mweli acknowledg­ed in parliament last month that “the alternatin­g attendance of school children is a challenge”. Most primary school pupils at government schools are attending lessons on alternate days because social-distancing requiremen­ts make it hard to accommodat­e all pupils simultaneo­usly, especially at institutio­ns with large classes.

The proposed move has been described as “long overdue” by Wits University vaccinolog­y professor Shabir Madhi, and school governing body associatio­ns said they would welcome it.

Madhi said all primary and high school pupils should be attending lessons daily. They can, he said, get infected whether they are at home or school.

“But the important thing is that they would rarely be hospitalis­ed, let alone die from Covid-19. The majority of infections in children, probably up to 80% of infections, are asymptomat­ic,” he said.

In January, the department said 5,663 pupils had contracted the virus and 10 had died.

Paul Colditz, CEO of the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools, confirmed it had proposed to the department this week that all primary and high school pupils be allowed to return daily.

“Children can scrum and tackle each other in rugby on the sports field but in the classroom they may not come closer than one metre of each other. It doesn’t make sense as the core business of a school is academics,” he said.

“In large schools with relatively limited capacity, parents are putting pressure on principals and school governing bodies to take in all learners.”

Anthea Cereseto, CEO of the Governing Body Foundation, said: “I don’t believe attending school on alternate days is good for children because they need routine and consistenc­y. Reading and maths need daily consistent reinforcem­ent.”

Matakanye Matakanya, general secretary of the National Associatio­n of School Governing Bodies, said that parents “are asking for schools to accept all children on a daily basis”.

Nomusa Cembi, spokespers­on for the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union, said the department must ensure there are enough classrooms to allow social distancing. “We have to balance between ensuring that learners learn and children spreading the disease among teachers and their parents and elderly grandparen­ts.”

Basil Manuel, executive director of the National Profession­al Teachers’ Organisati­on of SA, said a break in daily attendance “does not sustain consolidat­ion” of things taught. “But … we can’t simply have a one-size-fitsall approach because there are some schools that are vastly overpopula­ted, where you can’t even manage a half-metre distance between children.”

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