Expressing concern at the lack of clarity and postponed briefings around the reopening of schools by the Department of Basic Education (DBE), Shenilla Mohamed, Executive Director of Amnesty International South Africa, said:
“The government must communicate more clearly and confidently to put students, parents, teachers and school support staff at ease that all safety considerations are in place and all risks contained as much as possible. While we understand that this is not an easy situation, the pushback seen from parents and teachers is a result of a lack of trust and confidence in the DBE.”
UNICEF’s framework for reopening is clear on how best to do this and includes, among other things, access to safe water, physical distancing, school hygiene, implementing procedures should learners or staff become unwell, and equipping teachers to deal with learners’ mental health and social-emotional needs. In addition, the government must ensure that personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masks, is always available to all learners and staff who cannot source their own.
“Serious attention must be paid to the needs of children and schools from poor and disadvantaged communities in particular. Without doing so, the glaring inequalities that persist in our society will continue to be exacerbated with many children falling through the cracks of an already broken education system,” Mohamed added.
“After years of repeated failings and missed targets, now is the time for the government to seize this opportunity as our schools reopen to fix South Africa’s poor education system once and for all.
For example, our report on the state of education released in February this year, highlighted the fact that over 4 000 schools still had only pit latrines for sanitation and 37 had no sanitation at all. At a time when access to water and sanitation is of utmost importance to stay healthy, the lack of this essential provision in schools is deeply worrying. More broadly, as we also revealed, thousands of learners will be going back to unsafe school buildings and overcrowded classrooms with social distancing all but impossible.
Amnesty International South Africa reiterates its call for the DBE to be transparent, accountable and progressive in its response to the pandemic, putting human rights at the core of all of its decision-making. Not only as schools reopen but continuously and into the future.”
Amnesty International South Africa’s campaign, Right To Water: Turn On The Tap, calls for the government to recognise that many people in South Africa are denied their constitutional right to water, and to publicly commit to providing equal access to water for everyone – now and always.
Take action here and tell the government to #TurnOnTheTap.
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Mienke Steytler, Media and Digital Content Officer, Amnesty International South Africa: +27 (0)64 890 9224; firstname.lastname@example.org