Unlikely that parents will rush their children back to school

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Would you send your bundle of joy into harm’s way? Of course not. The instinct of a parent is to protect your child at all costs even if that means sacrificing your own life in the process. So why on earth does our increasingly authoritarian government think it can open schools in the middle of a pandemic and assume that parents would rush off their children to school?

Simple, actually. Our department of basic education is obsessed with one thing only — completing the academic year at all costs and that means covering the curriculum (even if it means “trimming” it down somewhat) and administering the final examinations.

In the rush to reopen, our education department officials flounder badly in full view of a nervous public. Notice how the dates for reopening have been changed four times depending on which official you spoke to on which day of the week. This partly reflects the ineptitude of the department and partly their own uncertainties about when it would be safe to return.

One thing is clear: they really don’t care that much about the mental health of returning teachers or the emotional health of frightened pupils.

Our department of basic education is obsessed with one thing only — completing the academic year at all costs

So here are 10 reasons why you should not send your child back to school — yet.

  • We are in the middle of a pandemic. Yes, our case numbers and deaths due to Covid-19 are relatively low but the spike, say the experts, might only come in September or even later. This means that rushing children back to school before then could be catastrophic.
  • We have not tested enough or traced enough or locked down long enough to have a confident sense of the extent of infections or even the actual numbers of people dead because of coronavirus. Who really knows the state of health in each of the 26,000 schools and what children and adults might be exposed to?
  • We do know that children seem to be less infected by the virus and that their symptoms are not as severe. But that is cold comfort for worried parents when we do know that children have died because of the pathogen. What should concern all of us is a recent New York Times article headed "New studies add to evidence that children may transmit the coronavirus" (5 May 2020).
  • We know that schools are complex ecologies. It is not only teachers and children who work in schools. It is cleaners, caretakers, administrators and the staff who make tea and serve food during the breaks, quite apart from those who come in and out making deliveries to the school and parents who drop and collect their loved ones. Anyone who tells you that in this fast-moving mix of humanity you can limit the spread of the infection, is lying;
  • We know that even before this pandemic the government could not provide the basic things that schools need like learning materials and sanitised toilets. You should therefore not believe that every school will have precautionary means in place like masks for every child, sanitisers, temperature screeners and effective decontamination of every living space. If you believe that such provisioning is even remotely possible outside of the middle class schools, you have not been paying attention.
  • We know that teachers and students move between home and school and back to home. A sick teacher or pupil goes home and, short story, infections and deaths will rage out of control for the somewhat obvious reason that schools exist within communities.
  • We know that the phased-in approach (Grades 7 and 12 are supposed to return to school on 1 June) is to limit the number of children in school and therefore enable some form of social distancing. In many schools expect half the teachers to stay at home, as allowed, because of diseases such diabetes or hypertension. Now try to imagine an on-site set of subject expertise that matches perfectly the smaller classes with an adequately qualified teacher for all the grade 12 subjects. Not going to happen.
  • We know that children do not go to school only to learn content. They miss their friends. Anybody who predicts that the rules of social distancing are going to be honoured has never worked in schools.
  • We know that teachers are going to return to school emotionally frail and physically exhausted. Children will need not only educational remediation but psychological support. Ignore such cold realities about the pandemic and the reasons for re-opening, to catch up and advance learning, will deliver dismal results.
  • We know that if one child or one teacher falls ill and dies as a result of the premature re-opening of schools, that shock will ripple across the education system with such force that the panic among parents will shut down schools for an even longer time.

We do well to heed the experts, as in the NYT article cited above: “Closing schools is not enough on its own to stop an outbreak, but it can reduce the surge by about 40% to 60% and slow the epidemic’s course.”

My advice to you as parents is simple. Do not risk your child’s health with all these uncertainties in the air.

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