Schools can’t be closed forever: Health Minister Zweli Mkhize

Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize says although there is an increasing number of learners getting infected with COVID-19, schools cannot close forever.

Mkhize says South Africans have to learn to coexist with the virus.

“The numbers are going to keep increasing and we’re gonna have COVID-19 till the end of the year, next year there will still be COVID-19, so it is not possible to keep the schools closed all the time. There has to be effort to try and return to normality within the restricted conduct of communities who know they have to battle and coexist with a pandemic which is troubling everybody in the whole world,” says Mkhize.

There have been calls for closure of schools amid the rising number of infections.

A number of schools countrywide have also had to close due to positive COVID-19 cases among learners and educators since the schools reopened last month after three months of closure due to the national lockdown.

On Monday, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga said she was concerned that drop-out rates will spike this year.

Motshekga says while they have put a lot of work into curbing the number of children who drop out of school over the years, this year may reverse the gains made. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in thousands of schools remaining closed.

Motshekga was visiting schools as part of her oversight on the first day back for Grades R, 6 and 11.

“We’ve been fighting throughout the system to manage drop out rates, this is going to present them to us, go to Boulders you will see these kids with tins jiving all over the place. For them to go back to school is going to be a major challenge, we have a threat of unintended pregnancies, juvenile delinquency.”

Education expert at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Professor Labby Ramrathan, believes that if the government sticks to the current education curriculum, targets will not be met.

Ramrathan says the curriculum needs to be fundamentally looked at and adjusted to suit the uncertain times in the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think it is important to understand that we mustn’t measure the school year by the calendar year and if it is required for us to move into the next year and to rearrange the curriculum or the timetable, we should consider that as a possibility, whether it is the correct possibility or not, it would still be up for debate and discussion. There is a whole range of views around schooling and how it should happen and I think in this uncertain times , any firm decision would not hold for very much longer.”

Earlier this week, the National Professional Teachers Oganisation (Naptosa) accused Motshekga of having failed to outline a plan to provide psycho-social support for learners and teachers in the midst of rising COVID-19 cases in the country.

This came as Motshekga announced the return of more learners. Motshekga said 4% of schools nationwide were forced to close and re-open because of COVID-19 since classes resumed for grades 7 and 12 on 8 June 2020. 

The African National Congress (ANC) has urged parents to teach their children the necessary precautions in order to protect themselves from COVID-19.

ANC Spokesperson Pule Mabe echoed President Cyril Ramaphosa’s call for South Africans to embrace the new way of life and ensure their safety and the safety of others. Mabe says the ANC is monitoring the work done by its structures in all provinces.