Please find attached voicenote from the DA Federal Leader John Steenhuisen MP.
The DA has today filed papers in the Gauteng High Court to enable and compel schools to open fully, immediately.
Over 80% of South African schools are still operating on a rotational basis, whereby each child only attends school half the time, on alternate days or weeks.
It defies belief and strains sanity that some 80% of South African schoolchildren are still being denied half their schooling, on the (undeniably false) assumption that this is somehow beneficial to them or to society as a whole, on a balance of risks.
Rotational schooling is being implemented in order to satisfy the government’s social distancing rule in classrooms, which is one metre for primary school children and one and a half metres for high school children. The rule is plainly unconstitutional.
The rotational system massively violates children’s constitutional rights to basic education, to basic nutrition, for children’s best interests to be paramount in all matters concerning them, and to equality.
There would need to be a very strong justification for denying children these rights.
Government has failed to provide a justification at all. On the contrary…
Government is ignoring their own scientific advice.
In July 2021, the government’s own Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) recommended that all schools should be open fully: “Ideally, all children should be at least one metre apart within classrooms, but where this is not possible, full capacity schooling should still be commenced whilst maintaining the maximum feasible physical distance.”
On 23 January 2022, six experts in infectious diseases and vaccinology stated:
“With the very high levels of asymptomatic transmission and community immunity present, there is no reason to continue restricting class sizes or children playing.”
Long-lasting, possibly irreparable, damage
It is overwhelmingly in a child’s interest to go to school.
Under the rotational model, schoolchildren’s access to basic education is being severely stunted, which will negatively impact the rest of their lives.
South African schoolchildren in no-fee schools have lost over half of their normal school days since the start of the pandemic and have learnt less than half of what they would normally learn. (More than 70% of South African schools are no-fee.)
The long-term effects on children will be lower educational attainment, lower earnings, higher unemployment, and being more likely to be in lower skilled occupations in adulthood.
The South African Paediatric Association has warned that denying children access to school results in poorer mental health, increased behavioural and developmental concerns, lack of access to play and social opportunities, increased isolation, academic impacts, child abuse, and neglect.
It further warns of the effects on parents, being poorer parent mental health, competing demands and increased stress, job losses and reduced family income.
Denies children access to food
The MAC report highlights how rotational schooling also threatens children access to food:
“Less than half of children (43%) received free school meals in February and March 2021, showing receipt is still well below pre-pandemic levels (65%), and possibly even November/December 2020 levels (49%). The leading explanation for low school meal receipt is rotational timetables where only half of children attend on any one day in most no-fee schools.”
The MAC report also explains how rotational schooling prejudices poor children and their families the most, thus exacerbating existing inequalities. Poor children benefit more from schooling than wealthier children and suffer more when normal schooling is denied.
Far more harm than good
The indirect negative consequences for schoolchildren of this social distancing rule are far, far, far greater than any potential benefit that it could bring to them or to society as a whole.
School children present a low risk of contracting or transmitting Covid-19. The risk is far too low to justify these enormous harms.
In any case, the social distancing rule does little if anything to reduce the spread of Covid-19 in a school setting.
The recent statement by six experts in infectious diseases and vaccinology confirms this:
“Children experience only a very small chance of harm from infection with SARS-CoV-2, except for those under one year of age or in the presence of underlying medical conditions. Children suffer illnesses from influenza and a range of other viruses and infections too, and we sent them to school prior to this pandemic, understanding the massive benefits to child health and development.”
Grossly unfair to children
The constitution states that a child’s best interests are of paramount importance in every matter concerning the child.
Children face far greater risks from rotational schooling than from Covid. So their own safety cannot be used as a justification of the social distancing rule.
Nor can the safety of adults be used to justify it, since restrictions on even high-risk adults have been all but removed. Taxis can operate at full capacity; businesses can operate fully; there are no limits on travel.
Furthermore, teachers and other adults have had plenty of time to get themselves vaccinated. So children cannot be made to pay the cost of keeping adults protected.
This rule, therefore, amounts to a huge intergenerational injustice. Government is choosing to sacrifice those least able to defend their own interest.
Depriving children of their constitutional right to education will surely go down as the worst and most harmful of all the irrational rules Ramaphosa’s administration has imposed on South Africa during this pandemic. The DA hopes that the judiciary will uphold children’s rights to attend school full time.