‘The vaccination programme can only succeed if schools are open’ – basic education on calls to shut schools

Calls for school closures are 'irresponsible', says the basic education department. File photo.
Calls for school closures are 'irresponsible', says the basic education department. File photo.

Basic education spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga has responded to calls for schools to be closed due to an increase in Covid-19 cases, saying the  demands are “irresponsible”.

Organisations and political parties, including the EFF and the Educators Union of SA, have over the past few weeks called for the department to put teacher’s lives first by shutting down schools. 

Speaking on 702 on Monday, Mhlanga said the department cannot afford to lose another school year.

“That is an irresponsible call. Last year they said close schools, but when we opened schools parents took their children to classes.

“It is a call by a few people. It is always minority groups that makes calls for schools to be closed,” said Mhlanga.

He said the people who are calling for schools to be closed were the same people who don’t offer the department ideas when schools are open.

“They are all about saying ‘close’ but they don’t tell you how to open. They don’t contribute in that regard. It’s very sad that we have people who oppose things. The vaccination programme can only succeed if schools are open,” he said.

Over the weekend, basic education minister Angie Motshekga said the vaccine rollout for teachers will start on Wednesday and run until July 8.

She said 582,000 people will be vaccinated, including staff who transport children to and from schools, staff who support school feeding schemes, staff who do remote learning programmes (TV and radio), staff of teacher unions and contracted staff who provide security, cleaning and other functions at schools.

Motshekga said vaccination was voluntary but “highly recommended so everybody can be protected”.

“For the next two weeks, we make the clarion call to our school communities to drop all and vaccinate. For us to successfully complete this programme, we will need to keep schools open,” she said.

“Any disruptions would be undesirable. The vaccination of everybody in the sector is an opportunity to normalise schooling and begin the process of mitigating the impact of Covid-19.”

She said the decision to keep schools open was made based on advice from the medical fraternity and public health experts.

She said school closures would be dealt with on a school-by-school basis.

“We believe schools must remain open and in saying so we are not insensitive to concerns raised about rising infections. The position is that we continue to handle Covid-19 cases according to the differentiated strategy, on a province-by-province and school-by-school basis,” said Motshekga.

On social media, many said schools should be closed, saying “human life is more important”. 

Here is a snapshot of what they had to say: