Closing schools just means poor kids bear the brunt of the virus

Ideas

Closing schools just means poor kids bear the brunt of the virus

Cyril’s shutdown is fine if you have middle-class options, not when staying at home means going hungry

Columnist

True, the virus does not respect borders. Nor does it respect social classes. And that is why the decision to close schools is going to be disastrous for the poor. Here’s the deal. When political leaders make dramatic decisions about Covid-19 they work with middle-class sensibilities. Nowhere is this more evident than in the decision to close schools.

When a middle-class primary school shuts down in response to presidential decree, there are one or more “maids” to collect them from school and look after them at home. A car-share arrangement with other middle-class parents normally takes the children home after school. There is food to eat at home and all kinds of distractions to “keep them busy”. A well-known SA celebrity tweeted this week: “The children’s school has just informed us that the curriculum will be e-mailed to us and put on the school app.” In elite schools it is easy to make the switch to online learning should the shutdown continue for weeks or even months.

Most SA children are working class and poor. When a school closes down for whatever reason there is immediate consternation for the parents. There is nobody at home to care for the child. This makes children vulnerable to all kinds of dangers including everyday violence and opportunistic predators. Poor children go to school for two main reasons – to learn and to eat. Anybody visiting a rural or township school will see large cooking pots on the grounds to sustain the children. In fact, every day 8.8 million children in quintile 1-3 schools depend on a cooked meal for lunch...

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