As the coronavirus cases are rapidly increasing in South Africa, the general population is reluctant with the Government’s decision to open the schools. The South African Government has decided to reopen schools from 27th January 2021. On March 2020, the schools in South Africa were closed down due to the coronavirus pandemic. While the initial plan was to close down educational institutions for four weeks, it extended to the end of the year. Now that the Government is planning to reopen schools, why are most of the population against this decision?
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Growing anxiety amongst the masses
According to recent research in the University of Johannesburg and the Human Sciences Research Council ( HSRC), most of South Africa’s population are opposed to reopening schools. They want it to remain closed till the situation is under control.
The survey was conducted online, and 10618 participants took part in it. The participants were chosen randomly and can be considered as representative of the entire South African population. The data was collected between 30th December 2020 – 6th January 2021. Hence, it is representative of the current mindset of the general population.
Findings of the survey
The survey led to a general opinion that most South Africans are opposed to the idea of reopening schools. The major giveaways from the data are:
- 53% of the survey takers feel that the schools should remain closed until the situation is controlled.
- 53% and 52% of women and men, respectively, do not want schools to reopen soon in South Africa.
- 19% of the survey takers feel that the schools should reopen for the 7th and 12th graders. The rest of the students should stay at home.
- 9 % of the survey takers are confused and chose not to answer definitively.
- Only 19% of the survey takers vouched for the reopening of schools in South Africa.
Researchers also suggested that difference of opinion on whether schools should reopen can also be differentiated on factors such as socioeconomic status:
- Those who reported having lower economic status opposed the idea of schools reopening. 53% of the survey takers, who earned less than R1000/month, opposed the idea.
- Survey takers, who reported having higher economic status and earned a high income, were less likely to oppose schools’ reopening. 41% of them earned more than R20000/month, fall in this category.
- The difference between the two groups is around 12 percentage points.
There was a difference in opinion based on ethnicity amongst the survey takers. The findings suggest that:
- 77% of the Indian Adults residing in South Africa were firmly against the reopening of schools.
- 63% of the colored population amongst the survey takers and 52% of the black Africans were antagonistic towards the idea.
- Out of the test takers, only 37% of the Caucasian adults opposed the Government’s decision.
Along with this, the first round of the survey data of another research conducted by HRSC and the University of Johannesbergsupports the notion that South Africans are against reopening of schools. Round 1 of this survey, led by them from 13th April 2020 to 11th May 2020, showed the public’s low level of support for their children going back to school. They felt that it would harm their children’s education.
Rise of infections leading to a rising in anxiety levels
The covid- 19 new variant 501.V2 was recently found in South Africa and are responsible for the second wave of infections. The strain is said to be more infectious, if not deadly, than the original covid-19 strain. With more strict rules being introduced to curb the number of infections, it is causing a great deal of anxiety amongst South Africans.
Mental health issues are observed amongst panic-stricken South Africans. With the new strain’s arrival, research suggests that they are more prone to ‘doom scrolling.’ The term refers to mind-numbingly scrolling through social media newsfeeds and compulsive need to feed on harmful content. That is, they are being exposed to constant updates about the pandemic as well as condolence posts on social media channels. Perhaps, this is why most parents are against the notion of sending their kids back to school. They are engulfed with fear and anxiety.
Why is the Government inclined to reopen schools?
The National Teacher’s Union (NATU) has conveyed that students from socio-economically disadvantaged schools cannot cope with the curriculum. As a result, many of them have dropped out. Cynthia Barnes, the General Secretary of NATA, has reported that several students are unaccounted for between March 2020 to December 2020. However, she feels that the schools at a disadvantage will put the students in a more vulnerable position of the schools reopen before the right time.
However, the opposition party Democratic Alliance has a different opinion. There were recent reports that some changes, and the schools were to reopen in mid-February instead of late January. The party is against such delays as it will lead to more chaos. They want to avoid complications that were faced by the students and the educators in the academic year 2020. The DA proposed that educators should also be included in the ‘covid warriors’ category and gain access to the vaccine as soon as it is made available.
The current plan of the Government is to call back the school teachers on 25th January 2021. The students are supposed to join from 27th January. The revised 2021 academic calendar suggests that the school year should end on 8th December and 10th December for students and teachers. This will only happen if things go according to the latest plans.
The current disagreement amongst the general population regarding the reopening of schools brings up a burning question – when will the students and educators go back to everyday life? Will it lead to more dropouts? Only time will tell. For now, you can only wait and watch what the Government decides.