Cape Town - The education fraternity in the Western Cape are calling for the scrapping of the 1 metre rule at schools and the full return of learners to school.
Education MEC Debbie Schäfer released a statement on Thursday morning slamming Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga's statement that the rotational timetable would remain.
The call comes after Motshekga's Tuesday statement confirming that no plans were in place to change the current directions issued by the Department of Basic Education (DBE) in terms of the disaster management regulations, except as they relate to the number of spectators at school sport venues.
Schäfer said there had also been no other changes to the disaster management regulations that affected schools.
She said that means that, despite the fact that Motshekga has stated, in directions issued in July last year, that all primary schools should revert to full attendance and follow a risk-adjusted approach depending on the direction the pandemic is taking, that had not happened.
She said part of the reason was that the Minister for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, promulgated a regulation on July 30, 2021 stating that the social distancing measure in primary schools was “reduced to one metre”.
Schäfer said by specifying one metre, schools may not legally ignore that.
"At this stage, approximately only 12% of our primary schools can comply with these directions. That means that approximately 88% of our primary schools are attending school on a rotational basis, despite efforts to revert to full attendance," she said.
She said there was strong and mounting evidence to suggest that the learning losses young people are suffering are devastating and will have long term negative consequences.
During the weekly Covid-19 digicon, both Premier Alan Winde and Western Cape head of Health Dr Keith Cloete touched on the issue, showing their support for the call from the MEC.
“You have to weigh up the physical distancing versus the impact it has by adhering to it in a place like a school where your educational outcomes are supposed to be weighed up.
“I think bringing the two together then brings into context what is technical advise you’re giving. As a health sector, we’re comfortable to advise that school should go forward if you weigh up the risks with one another,” Dr Cloete said.
Winde added: “I think Dr Cloete has already answered – you’ve got to weigh the one up against the other. We could say that in actual fact that we need to stick with these rules but (it will have) consequences for our economy, for the future of our citizens, for young people and their own mental well-being, and their ability to learn and to become part of the future.
“Let’s also look at the numbers. Let’s look at the infection numbers, let’s look at how many learners got infected, and we know our teachers are already in the stage of booster shots. So, quite frankly, if you apply all of those sciences and data, it shows us why we’re calling for that rule to be lifted.
“We have to make these decisions based on the data and the science, and also the implications, and so therefore, we need to end that disaster declaration and we need our schools to go back in full next week when we open schools,” Winde said.
Education activist Hendrick Makaneta said there is nothing wrong with scrapping the 1 metre distance and replacing it with 0.5 metre.
"We have noted an outcry from some of the parents who insist that 1 metre should be kept as it is. It is actually ironic that parents want to keep a distance of 1 metre in place when learners are using school buses where there is no social distance at all," Makaneta said.
He said the 0.5 metre would not do any harm to learners, and that argument was also backed by the National Department of Health.
*Additional reporting Theolin Tembo