The Department of Basic Education welcomes constructive engagement in assisting the department to respond effectively to the unprecedented challenge we face. The emergence of COVID-19 and the resultant lockdown has been a heavy blow to the DBE’s goal of providing quality education to all our school-going age children. This is a responsibility held in trust for the people of South Africa and we take this very seriously.
It is both shocking and disheartening when a respected academic and seasoned professional of Professor Jonathan Jansen’s calibre rides roughshod over this commitment and casts aspersions on the Department and the Minister’s bona-fides. The decision to reopen the schools was not an easy one for the sector. It was a balancing act between the health of learners, educators and officials and the pressing needs of the children’s academic progress.
This is made more critical by our challenging conditions already inherent in the system. The loss of the 2020 Academic year would spell disaster for a system already bursting at the seams. With limited resources we are already playing catch up on our classrooms backlog.
It’s important for us to remind all that the lockdown was always meant as an intervention to help arrest the speed of infection and help flatten the infection curve to buy our health system time and lessen the potential impact of a subsequent surge. It is a measure that recognizes that nobody currently has a vaccine or cure for the disease. This has not changed. Yes there is recognition from studies in countries that have eased restrictions and sought to return their economies and other sectors to operation that there’s a potential second surge, it is also true that different scientific models are predicting a similar occurrence for South Africa, so we are mindful of the risks, we will not dismiss them. We will continue to engage with the best available science and we will always act with integrity which thankfully is not the sole property of those who pontificate from the safety of an academic institution.
Professor Jonathan Jansen casts the Minister of Basic Education as an uncaring, statistics-munching politician only concerned about her political survival. The Minister is portrayed as someone who cares nothing for the health of the learners, teachers and employees. This betrays Professor Jansen’s established disdain for those who hold political office in this country. This is not a secret any longer for anyone who has followed the eminent scholar’s activities and pronouncements since his return to the country at the dawn of democracy. He has established himself as a critic of the Department of Basic Education with very little regard to the challenges we’ve faced to unite a number of very badly resourced and structured education departments inherited from our fractious past into one coherent and effective Basic Education Department system.
In his piece he conveniently forgets that he’s talking about a mother who raised children and feels on a daily basis the expectations of millions of parents who like her wants only the best for their offspring. To portray the minister as a ‘heartless’ politician willing to trade the health of South Africa’s children to avoid the problems that come with an extended stay-at-home time is mischievous in the extreme.
The Department of Basic Education recognizes the unprecedented challenge that the pandemic poses and the concerns raised by parents. We do recognize too, the enormous responsibility of securing the right of every child to basic education. It is a fact that measures have been put in place to assist ongoing learning during the lockdown, it is also true that our coal-face assessment indicates the inadequacy of these noble interventions like online learning and the use of television slots in an attempt to facilitate remote-learning. For many learners in our society faced with the challenge of inequality and unstable infrastructure the burden is more felt in the rural and less-resourced areas.
After a time spent combing through our villages and townships listening to parents at the end of their tether with limited food supplies, and hearing frustrated and anxious Grade 12 leaners concerned about their post Matric prospects we had to act. The effects of an extended economic lockdown are being felt severely by many families without a ‘silver spoon’. Many of our learners have been exposed to risky choices and behaviours because of the lack of parental supervision while at home for extended periods of time.
These risks further threaten to delay their progress to a better life and future and reduces their chances to complete their education. For some of our children, the school feeding scheme is a welcome relief from hunger and the extended stay-at-home has not helped their cause. For some the hours spent in a classroom is the protections they need from sexual abuse and exploitation in an unsafe home. For others there’s only once place that provides at least one adult committed to their well-being in the form of a teacher.
The trust-deficit referred to by Professor Jansen is a reality of our society that Minister Motshekga under the leadership of President Cyril Ramaphosa remains committed to address. It’s a reality of our fractious political history and just as we grappled with it in the past we shall continue to grapple with it as long as we have breath. For the future of our children and the prosperity of our nation we dare not fail.
The safety and health of our Educators, Learners and Officials remains our priority and this in our view cannot be separated from our desire and commitment to return learners to school as early as possible to safeguard their opportunities access to education.
We have continually engaged with this challenge since the outbreak of the pandemic and we continue resolute to find solutions. We have worked tirelessly to improve our hygiene and safety protocols for all our schools in the different quintiles to secure the health of our learners when they return to school. Water supply gaps are being attended to, School Feeding Schemes are being repurposed, Sanitizers are being delivered, A media campaign to promote hygiene is being run, Face masks are being delivered to schools, and in management teams are remapping their classrooms with a consideration of a platoon system of attendance to alleviate the classroom crowding and reduce playground congestion.
We are optimistic people, we believe that with all of us working together as a nation of partners and contributors we shall overcome. We refuse to be swayed by doomsayers of our day. Our planning is for the reopening of schools.
We shall work together with our parents and officials to mitigate the risks, because we have a compact to work shoulder-to-shoulder as we push the COVID-19 boundaries back. We shall not give in to despair and we shall not give in to fear. We are a nation that rises together and lifts each other up. We shall overcome even as we hear voices of the prophets of doom among us!