Schools health, safety paramount: President Ramaphosa

President Cyril Ramaphosa :Image GCIS.

Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa has assured par­ents that the health and safe­ty of learn­ers and stu­dents would be of para­mount impor­tance as gov­ern­ment pre­pares to reopen schools and insti­tutes of high­er edu­ca­tion in lock­down lev­el 3.

The grad­ual reopen­ing of schools was meant to begin today with Grades 7 and 12 return­ing to class. How­ev­er, on Sun­day the Depart­ment of Basic Edu­ca­tion announced this move was being post­poned for anoth­er week to improve school readi­ness. Schools in the coun­try closed on 18 March amid a rise in COVID-19 cas­es and as a mea­sure to curb fur­ther spread.

Today also sees the coun­try move to an eased COVID-19 lock­down lev­el 3.

On Mon­day, in his week­ly let­ter, Pres­i­dent Ramaphosa said the gov­ern­ment has heard con­cerns from teach­ers and par­ents about the state of readi­ness in many schools.

“We wel­come their con­tri­bu­tions and are tak­ing steps to address their con­cerns as well as pro­pos­als,” he said.

Announc­ing the reopen­ing of schools, gov­ern­ment has said it would adopt a grad­ual approach, guid­ed by the advice of our sci­en­tists and led by the real­i­ties on the ground and con­sul­ta­tions with stake­hold­ers.

“In the last few weeks, as we have pre­pared to return to school, we have had exten­sive and detailed dis­cus­sions with all role-play­ers in the edu­ca­tion sphere. These have guid­ed our approach to this com­plex and chal­leng­ing task,” said the Pres­i­dent.

Pres­i­dent Ramaphosa said it was under­stand­able that many par­ents and care­givers had mixed emo­tions at the reopen­ing of schools.

“There is relief that chil­dren will resume their edu­ca­tion after a pro­longed absence from class­rooms and lec­ture halls. Young peo­ple are eager to be in school again and to see friends and teach­ers. But there is also appre­hen­sion on the part of par­ents, edu­ca­tors and learn­ers them­selves,” he said.

Par­ents want reas­sur­ance that the nec­es­sary pre­cau­tions should be in place to ade­quate­ly pro­tect learn­ers.

“The safe­ty of our youngest cit­i­zens from a health and phys­i­cal per­spec­tive is not nego­tiable. It is our fore­most pri­or­i­ty,” he said.

Edu­ca­tion author­i­ties, at all edu­ca­tion lev­els, he said, are hard at work putting the nec­es­sary health and safe­ty mea­sures in place for the reopen­ing of insti­tu­tions.

“That doc­u­men­ta­tion regard­ing stan­dard oper­at­ing pro­ce­dures have been pro­vid­ed to all schools. These stan­dard oper­at­ing pro­ce­dures cov­er issues like train­ing and ori­en­ta­tion of screen­ers, timetable realign­ment and con­fig­ur­ing class­rooms to meet social dis­tanc­ing require­ments,” said Pres­i­dent Ramaphosa.

The process of deliv­er­ing per­son­al pro­tec­tive equip­ment and ensur­ing the avail­abil­i­ty of water and san­i­ta­tion ser­vices is pro­ceed­ing, he said. Learn­ing, once it com­mences, is expect­ed to take place under strict con­di­tions with a cor­rect­ly lim­it­ed num­ber of learn­ers and stu­dents.

“As par­ents, teach­ers, gov­ern­ing bod­ies and gov­ern­ment, we are in agree­ment that no school should re-open until all the nec­es­sary pre­cau­tions are in place. There needs to be trans­paren­cy about the lev­el of pre­pared­ness of each of the schools. Every­one who is a key role play­er, be they a par­ent, a school gov­ern­ing body mem­ber, a teacher or a gov­ern­ment offi­cial should be able to have the cor­rect infor­ma­tion about the state of pre­pared­ness of each school. It is our col­lec­tive respon­si­bil­i­ty to ensure that the learn­ing envi­ron­ment is safe.”

Pres­i­dent Ramaphosa salut­ed par­ents and care­givers for ensur­ing that while schools were closed, they had greater dai­ly respon­si­bil­i­ty for the edu­ca­tion and devel­op­ment of their chil­dren.

“Once the lock­down is lift­ed and more learn­ers return to school, we par­ents should con­tin­ue to play a more active role in the edu­ca­tion of our chil­dren, whether it is through join­ing school gov­ern­ing bod­ies, vol­un­teer­ing our ser­vices at schools or oth­er forms of assis­tance.

“Par­ents can join in vol­un­teer­ing to clean schools, estab­lish­ing veg­etable gar­dens or being part of neigh­bour­hood school safe­ty com­mit­tees. This can turn the schools into real, mean­ing­ful com­mu­ni­ty schools,” he said.

He reit­er­at­ed that gov­ern­ment was mak­ing every effort to pro­tect chil­dren.

“As par­ents, you have entrust­ed us with the wel­fare and safe­ty of your chil­dren. It is a respon­si­bil­i­ty we do not take light­ly. In the days and weeks to come, we will be close­ly mon­i­tor­ing the return to school.

“If we fol­low the pro­to­cols and main­tain all pre­cau­tions – as par­ents, edu­ca­tors, com­mu­ni­ties and learn­ers – we will effec­tive­ly min­imise the risk posed by the Coro­n­avirus.” –

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