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Covid in the Kasi – Are Diepsloot Schools Ready for Students to Return?

There has been much controversy and apprehension around the government’s announcement that some learners would be allowed to return to school on the 1st of June, and the subsequent delay of the reopening of schools. How do Diepsloot residents feel?

The #CovidintheKasi citizen journalists have managed to get the scoop from two perspectives. They interviewed a matric learner and a School Governing Body representative of Diepsloot Primary 4.

Lockdown alert level 3 allows for more economic activity to be resumed, the reopening of schools to final year learners and 33% of higher education students. What does safety look like in the eyes of the students and teachers.

The Department of Basic Education has delayed the reopening of the country’s schools by a week in order to prepare for the return of learners. It’s been announced that schools will open for all Grade 7 and 12 learners on Monday, 8 June 2020. Other grades will only be returning later in the following months. However, in schools that are based in townships like Diepsloot, where living conditions are difficult and commuting to school is a safety hazard, who is ensuring that learners are safe outside and inside the gates of the school?

I met with Akim Zulu, a School Governing Body (SGB) representative of Diepsloot Primary 4. He provided insight into what safety measures have been put in place as the school prepares to welcome back grade 7 learners.

Lerato: Mr Akim, as parents and learners are very concerned about the measures being taken to ensure learners come back to a clean and safe environment, what has the school and the Department of Education done thus far to ensure that schools are ready for the return of students?

Akim Zulu: What we have done is sanitised all the necessary equipment in classrooms and disinfected tables, chairs, windows etc. The Department of Education has provided Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) – masks, gloves and sanitisers.

Lerato: How will social distancing measures be implemented in the classrooms?

Akim Zulu: We have reduced the amount of learners per class. Usually there’s 40 learners per class, which has now been decreased to 20. Even though only grade 7 learners will be returning, the school’s entire staff will be present so that there are enough teachers to teach the increased number of classes.

Lerato: Who will be assisting with the screenings that need to be done daily and how frequently will screening take place?

Akim Zulu: Four youth Covid brigades will be deployed by the Department of Health to assist with the screening tests. Screenings will be done 3 times a day – in the morning when learners enter the school, after the lunch break and again before learners exit school premises. This is to ensure that we record their body temperatures regularly, so that if anything arises we can take quick action.

Lerato: What happens when you find that a learner’s temperature is too high? Does it mean the learner needs to be placed in isolation, and is the school prepared for such?

Akim Zulu: As we will have more classrooms at our disposal, there will be isolation rooms set up. We are aware that perhaps some students might have slightly higher temperatures might be as they’ve just come out of a car/ taxi which will obviously affect their temperature. In this case, learners will be placed in isolation for a good 30 minutes, to see if their temperatures decrease. If not, they will be kept in isolation until we are advised what further steps to take by the Department of Health.

Lerato: The teachers’ union has been in court arguing against the ruling of schools reopening. How do most teachers feel about returning to school? Does the school find itself short of staff?

Akim Zulu: Thankfully we find all our teachers willing to return to school, and with teachers from all grades required to come to school in order to assist the other teachers in filling the necessary gaps, it’s safe to say all staff will be present when we reopen!

Lerato: Will school hours be the same as usual or will they be extended in order for learners catch up on missed schoolwork?

Akim Zulu: School hours won’t be extended as we have been active on the online learning platform during the lockdown. Teachers have been sending students worksheets to complete via WhatsApp, so learners are up to date with their work.

It’s astounding to see the effort teachers and fellow parent representatives have put into ensuring that learners in critical years can resume their studies, steadfast through the Covid19 crisis! As streets and transportation routes see an influx of millions on their return to work and school, the rate of infection is largely dependent on how society adheres to distancing and hygiene rules.

Let’s put our faith in ourselves and our compatriots!

by Lerato J. Molefe