Most Gauteng, Western Cape schools in hotspots

The majority of schools in Gauteng are in Covid-19 hotspot areas. 

This was revealed by basic education director general Mathanzima Mweli in a press briefing on Sunday. 

He said that out of more than 25 000 schools in the country, 8 047 were in hotspots and 6 995 of these were public schools. And most of Gauteng’s and the Western Cape’s schools are in hotspots. 

The two provinces have the highest number of infections in the country. 

The department of basic education used information based on the prevalence of the virus in 52 district municipalities in the country and then used the location of all schools to indicate where they were in terms of the prevalence of the virus. 

This information showed that out of Gauteng’s 3 001 schools 1 824 are in the City of Johannesburg where the infection rate has risen. 

As of July 1 the highest number of active cases were mostly in the inner city, Alexandra, Houghton, Soweto, Dobsonville and Johannesburg South. 

Mweli said a Council of Education Ministers meeting, which includes the department’s minister and deputy minister, MECs of education and heads of departments, had concluded that because Gauteng and the Western Cape have the largest number of schools in hotspots they had to proceed cautiously as they reopen schools for grades that have not yet returned to school. 

This week schools opened for grades R, 6 and 11. The first group of learners returned to the classroom last month and other grades are expected to be phased in during July, with the last group going back to school at the end of August. 

In his presentation at the Sunday briefing, the MEC of education in Gauteng, Panyaza Lesufi, said as of July 3 there were 571 schools that had positive Covid-19 cases. 

The Mail & Guardian found that 238 of those schools are in the City of Johannesburg. 

“The virus in Gauteng is ravaging our communities and we need to be very careful,” said Lesufi. 

A week ago Makhura said the province would approach the National Coronavirus Command Centre to allow it to reintroduce stringent measures, which would include an intermittent lockdown and slowing down the reopening of schools, to contain the spread of the virus. 

The province has since reverted and said it will focus on policing the current level of lockdown.

A teacher at a Soweto school this week said she lives in panic and if it were up to her she would work from home. “The mood at school is not okay; we are just pushing. We do not feel safe, but what else can we do?”

Her biggest worry is that most of her colleagues use taxis to get to work and they share common spaces at school, so she fears that she will contract the virus. 

“We are being sent to a slaughter house — but then again Angie [Minister Motshekga] told us that she is paying us so we should report for work. So what can we do? We will go,” said the teacher. 

(John McCann/M&G)

A parent, Bavumile Ndaba, who lives in Dobsonville and whose son attends a school in another hotspot, Roodepoort, said she had mixed feelings about sending her child, who is in grade 6, back to school this week. 

But she said she was comforted by the report she received from her son on Monday after returning from school. He will go to school three times a week, there are only 13 of them in the classroom and during breaks they are monitored to ensure they keep their social distance from other learners. The transport her son uses also has measures in place to protect the learners. 

Ndaba said she would only worry when more grades return to school. “I think only then will we review whether he should use the scholar transport. For now I am comfortable with him going to school because I understand that they have to finish the curriculum.”  

An educationist said that as more grades go back to school, planning and measures to protect teachers and learners will have to improve, particularly for those schools in hotspots. 

Zahraa McDonal, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Johannesburg, said it would disadvantage learners to tell them to stay at home because other learners would be completing the curriculum. Schools in hotspots need to be provided with additional resources to protect learners and teachers. 

“We need to enhance the support to those schools; we cannot say they cannot continue. We need to teach our learners about the virus. They need to be told to maintain social distancing, to put on a mask when they get into a taxi, to sanitise when they get offs,” she said 

McDonal said the country does not have the capacity to lose the academic year especially because no one knows when there will be a vaccine. 

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Bongekile Macupe
Bongekile Macupe is an education reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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