Absentee rates up to 40% as Covid-19 fears keep pupils at home
Teacher and principal organisations report large stayaways owing to fear and anxiety among parents
A spike in Covid-19 infections at schools and parents’ reluctance to send their children back to class has forced many pupils to stay away.
The National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of SA (Naptosa) and the South African Principals’ Association said many schools had recorded pupil absentee rates of between 30% and 40%.
Grades R, 6 and 11 pupils returned to school last week after grades 12 and 7 were phased in on June 8.
The results of a snap survey by Times Select has also confirmed high absentee rates at some schools last week. Among these were:
- 111 out of 167 Grade 6 pupils absent at Boikagong Primary in North West where three teachers tested positive for Covid-19;
- 155 out of 180 Grade 11 pupils absent at Southlands Secondary in KwaZulu-Natal last Friday after a teacher tested positive last Monday; and
- 70 out of 191 Grade 11 pupils absent at Freedom Park Secondary in North West last Friday where seven matric pupils and two teachers tested positive.
Thousands of Grade R, 6 and 11 pupils could also not return to class last week because hundreds of schools were closed after pupils and teachers tested positive for Covid-19.
Residensia Secondary in Sebokeng, Gauteng, which has remained closed since June 18 after a teacher tested positive for Covid-19, could not accept 197 Grade 11 pupils back last Monday.
The 225 matrics at Residensia Secondary have received only one full day of lessons since schools reopened on June 8, sparking fears that teachers won’t be able to complete the syllabus on time.
At Iteko Special School in North West, the 153 Grade 5s, who were to have returned last Monday, were only returning on Monday after five teachers tested positive for Covid-19.
A teacher from Boikagong Primary said parents “remained sceptical” about sending their children back to school for fear that they might contract the virus.
A teacher at Residensia Secondary said they were still awaiting their results after they were tested by clinic staff on June 18.
“Pupils’ education is suffering and we feel very sorry.”
Chrissie Virasamy, a history teacher at Southlands Secondary, said that since schools reopened on June 8 they had two cases of Covid-19 infections soon after each other.
“As a result, the fear and anxiety among parents has increased and confidence has taken a knock.”
As a result, the fear and anxiety among parents has increased and confidence has taken a knock.Teacher Chrissie Virasamy
David de Korte, national president of the South African Principals’ Association, said colleagues had indicated that between 50% to 60% of pupils were attending school.
De Korte, who is principal of Camps Bay High in Cape Town, said his absentee rate was 35% in Grade 10 and 30% in Grade 11.
“Matrics seem to be coming because they’re scared they not going to have their syllabus cut in any way.”
He had a “60% non-arrival” for his maths class last Wednesday.
“In the Western Cape everyone is talking about the infections peaking either now or in the next few weeks so I think parents are saying it’s safe to keep my children at home.”
Naptosa’s executive director, Basil Manuel, confirmed that reports from schools and the union’s provincial offices were indicating “large stayaways” of pupils, including matric pupils.
“It’s not true that the return rate of pupils has been fantastic.”
The Eastern Cape, which did not phase in grades R, 6 and 11 last week, encouraged principals to make parents aware that they may apply for exemption from school attendance for their children.
On June 25, basic education minister Angie Motshekga told the National Council of Provinces that 98% of pupils in Grade 12 and 7 had returned to school.