In terms of the principle of trade-offs it is stated that we all make trades throughout life, whether we know it or not. The question though is whether you are going to make good trades or bad ones. This question seems to be one that the country is grappling with in light of COVID-19 and its effects and more especially in regard to the resumption of education, the return of more learners to school, the opening of the Early Childhood Development Services (ECDS) vs. the health and safety of those involved and their ability to earn an income.
Government and citizens alike are conflicted!
Government is required to balance the educational needs of the nation, rescue the academic year, continue with the opening up of the economy while looking out for the health and safety of its citizens. If the current learners are required to repeat grades in 2021, what will happen with the thousands of children who are set to start school in 2021? Many schools are already operating at full capacity with the current number of learners and cannot afford increases in numbers without the regulated exit of others. Not to mention the added challenges regarding accommodating the current learners safely while abiding by the social distancing requirements and without compromising on the level and quality of education provided and expected.
Many schools are currently unable to meet the COVID-19 health and safety requirements due to a lack of resources and as such are not ready to accommodate learners. Over the weekend, the Minister of Basic Education confirmed that about 2,740 teachers and about 1,260 learners have been infected by the coronavirus since the return of grade 7 and 12 pupils on the 8th of June. Schools and community communication forums frequently issue communications to parents informing them about staff members and learners who either have become infected or have been required to go into quarantine.
On the 2nd of July 2020, the Department of Basic Education announced that only grades R, 6 & 11 would be required to return to school as from 6 July 2020. This was a change to earlier plans gazetted which had indicated that grades 1, 2, 3 and 10 were also to resume school on the same date. Many were relieved by this announcement while it elicited feelings of anxiety for many parents whose children are required to return to school, especially as there have been reports that certain schools and even provinces are not ready to welcome the additional numbers of learners. It has been reported that Limpopo, North West and KwaZulu-Natal Provinces have been granted permission to delay the return of grade R learners to a later date as many schools in these provinces are reportedly not ready to accommodate increased numbers of learners.
The delay in permitting the return of additional numbers of learners is used as one of the methods of ensuring the safety of both learners and staff as schools continue to work on improving their readiness.
But what of the learners and teachers who are required back at school, how will their safety and health be protected in the midst of the rise in corona virus infections at schools? Is their health and safety an equitable trade-off for the rescue of the academic year?
With the increased opening up of economic activities, large numbers of parents are required to report back at work, but as they return to work who will take care of their children who are neither able to return to school nor to go to the ECDS or aftercare facilities? The increase in infection rates throughout the country has meant that these parents cannot rely on their extended families for the provision of the much needed support of caring for their children in fear of further increasing the vulnerability of their elderly family members whom they would ordinarily turn to under normal circumstances. Some questions emerge… “Who will look after their small children as they resume employment? Do they sacrifice employment in order to take care of and ensure the safety of their children? Do they entrust the health and safety of their children to educators who themselves are battling with their own? How will they take care of their children without a source of income?”
It is a multi-pronged difficulty for fear of infection, loss of employment, starvation, compromised academic progress for 2020, etc.
Never have trade-offs forced citizens and government alike to make such difficult choices, some of which may mean life or death.