E Cape pupils stay away in droves thanks to parents’ ‘anxiety’

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E Cape pupils stay away in droves thanks to parents’ ‘anxiety’

The dismal numbers include two schools where not one Grade 3 or 6 pupil pitched on Monday, a report reveals

Journalist
A Grade 7 pupil at Sitoromo Junior Secondary School in Sterkspruit, Eastern Cape, leaves class for break.
Grade expectations A Grade 7 pupil at Sitoromo Junior Secondary School in Sterkspruit, Eastern Cape, leaves class for break.
Image: AFP/Marco Longari

Many of the more than 256,000 Grade 3, 6 and 11 pupils in the Eastern Cape, who have been at home since lockdown began, did not pitch up for the first day of school on Monday.

Their absence from class comes in the wake of a report presented by the Eastern Cape education department to the provincial legislature last week outlining the readiness of schools to receive the new grades.

The report confirmed that 337 of the 5,253 schools would not reopen because of infrastructure, water and sanitation problems.

Attendance figures for grades 3, 6 and 11, compiled by branches belonging to the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of SA (Naptosa) revealed that no Grade 3 or 6 pupil arrived at Bantini Primary in Ngqeleni or Ngqwangi Primary in Libode.

Poor pupil attendance at other schools on Monday included:

  • Waban Senior Secondary in Ngqeleni: only one of 137 Grade 11 pupils returned;
  • Mount Nicholas Junior Secondary in Libode: only three of the 180 Grade 6s returned;
  • Mavubeza Primary in Ngqeleni: seven of 67 Grade 6 pupils returned; and
  • Msintsana Junior Secondary in Engcobo: nine of the 27 Grade 6 pupils returned.

None of the pupils at Ellen Olivier Primary in Middelburg in the Eastern Cape returned as 14 of the 29 teachers are on comorbidity leave.

A total of 5,303 teachers in the province have been affected by comorbidities and the province needs 3,591 substitutes to take over their workload.

The school situation is unstable as educators and learners are daily infected, making everybody feeling anxious and parents reluctant to send their children to school.

Naptosa’s Eastern Cape CEO, Loyiso Mbinda, said the poor pupil turnout indicated that parents were very worried that their children would contract Covid-19.

At least 190 pupils and 775 teachers have tested positive for the coronavirus while 18 people, including teachers, pupils and non-teaching staff, have died of Covid-19-related complications in the province.

Of the 927 schools that were forced to temporarily close because of infections, 644 have reopened and 283 remain closed.

The report said “the school situation is unstable as educators and learners are daily infected, making everybody feeling anxious and parents reluctant to send their children to school”.

Other risks mentioned in the report included:

  • Fear among communities directly affected by high numbers of Covid 19 cases;
  • Teacher attendance varying from 60% to 70%;
  • The increase in the number of teachers applying for sick leave; and
  • Water tanks at schools emptying faster than anticipated as residents are using the water.

According to the report there was also a shortage of matric teachers, and teachers were teaching subjects they had not taught before.

“The shortage of subject advisers in critical subjects in some districts has delayed the mediation of critical documents to teachers. Monitoring and reporting has also been affected.”

The shortage of subject advisers in critical subjects in some districts has delayed the mediation of critical documents to teachers.

The report also painted a dire picture of the 55 school hostels that were subsidised by the department, saying they were “characterised by overcrowding”.

“The infrastructure in the 55 hostels is poor. The space for hostel accommodation is inadequate for maintaining social distance with the phase-in of the new grades.”

Temporary boarding facilities were required to accommodate 8,033 pupils who would be without accommodation.

The Eastern Cape education department did not respond to questions but referred Times Select to a generic media statement dated July 19.

The Limpopo education department suspended the return of Grade 3 and 10 pupils, who were also due to return on Monday.

The KwaZulu-Natal education department issued a circular on Friday advising schools that no further grades should be phased in this month.

Education experts, meanwhile, have weighed in on calls to scrap the academic year.

Children should have access to the right to education if it is possible and safe.

Prof Ursula Hoadley, from the school of education at the University of Cape Town, said calls to scrap the school year didn’t take into account “the cost to children in terms of learning, nutrition, health and social outcomes”.

"The empirical data around child hunger is solid. So too is data around the number of children who will be left at home alone. So too is the gender-skewed childcare burdens that women face as the economy opens up and schools stay closed.”

She praised basic education minister Angie Motshekga for keeping schools open, saying “children should have access to the right to education if it is possible and safe”.

“TB poses a greater clinical risk to children than Covid does. In 2018, TB killed 50% more people than Covid is projected to kill in 2020. Closing schools in response to TB would not be considered. Why is it different with Covid?”

Prof Mary Metcalfe said she strongly supported the basic education department’s position that planning what to teach “will be a catch-up over several years and not a ‘sprint’ for coverage”.

“In 2020, learning will need to be consolidated after a long break, and the focus should be on building clear foundations for learning in 2021 and 2022.”