Voices

Not reopening schools will cause more socioeconomic havoc

2020-05-22 01:00

To make decisions on behalf of a collective is a difficult task, primarily because a collective seldom speaks in unison.

Within a collective are different people with differing outlooks and world views. The task of leadership is to be able to moderate and analyse these different views in a way that will benefit the collective.

In attempting to do this not everyone will be satisfied, because of the impossibility of speaking directly to each and every individual demand.

Simply put, anyone elected to lead a group of people will be scorned, insulted, chastised and criticised.

However, what is important though is for the leader to adhere to principles and be dictated to by what will best serve the aspirations of the group instead of seeking to speak to the sensibilities of individuals.

Government recently announced that schools will reopen for the essential Grades 7 and 12.

We must never underplay the important role education plays and the life-long implications that might result from a full year of stasis.
Mcebo Dlamini

This decision was critiqued by many people, most of whom suggested that it was premature for schools to reopen.

The majority of the critics cited the fact that South Africa is adequately equipped to control the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus and that should any of the children contract the virus at school they are likely to take it home to their families. This will then reverse all the gains that have been made by the national lockdown in flattening the curve.

Read: All systems go for reopening of schools from June 1

This is a sound concern but a more important question to ask is: What is at stake if schools do not open? Are we willing to bear the long-term consequences that will result from a stasis of the entire academic year?

The answer is not a philosophical one and does not need much thought. In light of the socioeconomic conditions in South Africa, we cannot afford to have a year with no educational output. Not only for the country but for families and societies that are already entrapped in the web of inactivity, unemployment and dependency.

I need not stress the importance of education, too much labour has been done on that. So are we sacrificing the lives of thousands of people all because of education?

The answer is no, because there is no statistical guarantee that if the children go back to school they will be infected with Covid-19, and as the government explained, there are measures in place that will minimise the risk of infection.

This must be thought of in light of the reality that we might have to live with this virus for a very long time. Therefore, it only makes sense to start thinking about the ways in which we will navigate our lives in the post-Covid-19 world.

That being said, if the children do not return to school it will mean an academic year wasted – that alone has serious implications.

There are families whose children are their only hope of breaking the cycle of poverty. If they do not return to school what does this mean? What does it mean for the economy of the country that is already in a crisis with inadequate skills and high levels of unemployment?

What is at stake if schools do not open? Are we willing to bear the long-term consequences that will result from a stasis of the entire academic year?
Mcebo Dlamini

Here I think consent ought to play an important role. It should be the prerogative of the parents to insist that their children must not return to school. But in making this decision, they ought to remember that education is as essential as the operations of the banks, supermarkets and other economic sectors.

We must never underplay the important role education plays and the life-long implications that might result from a full year of stasis.

The department of basic education also has an important role to play in ensuring that it facilitates a safe environment for the children and staff to return to.

Read: Motshekga’s ‘optimism must be questioned’, say teacher unions

This situation also highlights the stark differences between private and public schools. Overcrowding and lack of infrastructure might pose a problem but it’s up to government to put in place measures to ameliorate this and ensure that things proceed safely and accordingly.

Much that still needs to be done. The virus has exposed many things that our government needs to address and attend to. The socioeconomic conditions of the people again expose them and make them vulnerable to a number of issues.

During this crisis, government has demonstrated that under certain conditions it is able to deliver. It must continue to fearlessly and diligently ensure that the nation survives this unprecedented moment.


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May 31 2020