After doing some independent monitoring of schools for readiness in all 9 provinces and after consultations with various stakeholders, including teachers’ unions and school governing bodies, the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has written to the Minister of Basic Education, Minister Angie Motshekga, recommending that she reconsiders 01 June 2020 as the date for the return of Grade 7 and Grade 12 learners to school.

Whilst the Commission supports the opening of schools as soon as possible in order to give effect to the rights of learners to education – a matter of great national importance to our country in many aspects – it believes that this should be done in tandem with reasonable and adequate measures and efforts to safeguard the right to health of learners and educators. It is thus important that necessary minimum conditions that need to be met for the re-opening of schools, such as access to adequate clean water and sanitation, social distancing, the availability of personal protective equipment, training and the general sanitization of schools, are met.

Feedback from our provincial offices is that many schools have not achieved the required readiness to receive learners. Most observations from our provincial offices highlight the shortage or inadequacy of water and sanitation as well as personal protective equipment. Some even reported that the necessary training was still outstanding. Other observations made during monitoring in provinces are that the levels of readiness for many rural schools are significantly low. The monitoring continues. The Commission has received confirmation, through its provincial office in the Northern Cape, that the Northern Cape MEC for Education has announced that schools in the province will not be ready to reopen by 01 June 2020 and that they are looking at learners returning to school on 08 June 2020 instead.

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SAHRC consultations

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In addition to its own independent monitoring of schools, the Commission has had consultations with stakeholders specifically, teachers’ unions and school governing bodies. The various teachers’ unions have urged us that the conditions necessary for the proposed opening of schools for grade 7 and 12 learners, announced by yourselves, have not yet been met. They said that they based this conclusion upon their own observations on the ground. The schools governing bodies informed the Commission this afternoon that, as of today, (28 May 2020) about 3,500 schools still have no adequate water.

All these reports give the SAHRC whether, and considering that only 3 days remain before the date of opening as well as the amount of work that appears stillremaining to be done, the schools will be ready to receive learners with the expected levels of safety by 01 June 2020. The Commission has therefore communicated its concerns by letter to the Minister and recommended that she reconsiders the date for reopening the schools.

Although not raised in the communication to the Minister of Basic Education, the Commission remains concerned about the digital divide affecting our learners; where those that have the means and have access to technology and data, are able acquire some form of learning whilst the majority of learners do not enjoy the same access and rights as a result of their socio-economic status. We have called upon the National Command to address this issue and will continue to engage government in this regard.

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Ends

Issued by the South African Human Rights Commission.

Gushwell Brooks – Communications Co-ordinator Tel: 082 645 8573gbrooks@sahrc.org.za

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