Will learners be forced to go back to school?

As schools prepare to reopen on 1 June amid the coronavirus pandemic, parents may have concerns about the safety of their children with underlying health conditions, like asthma

However, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga said no one will be forced to go back to school.

Speaking at a briefing on Tuesday, Motshekga outlined the plans for schools to start receiving pupils where she explained that the parents of children with ailments, like asthma, should "step up" and declare this to the school.

This is so that schools can assist parents to manage the pupil, but, she added she could not give any guarantees as about 60 million pupils need to be looked after.

"We will have to deal [with it] case by case without necessarily giving any individual or family any guarantees because I don't think I will be able to do that," Motshekga said.

These cases, she added, would be dealt with as parents declare it to schools.

While every child is important, Motshekga said learners without underlying conditions could not be held back by those who do.

Deputy Basic Education Minister Makgabo Mhaule added that the department does not want to expose pupils to any danger, and parents must let their schools know about their child's conditions.

Schools will then be able to arrange a plan around how they will go about teaching pupils who cannot physically attend school due to their condition.

Motshekga said the doubts and anxieties of parents are understandable. Should parents decide they do not want their children to return to school, they could either register for home schooling or the child could repeat their grade.

While children under 15 must be in school, the South African Schools Act allows parents to home school, but they must register for this.

This involves submitting a plan for the home schooling, and parents will be assisted with the curriculum for each grade.

Should parents decide their children will not be returning to school and that they will not undertake home schooling, Motshekga said parents can also apply to have their children repeat their grade.

Mhaule explained that parents should not deprive their children of schooling.

"If you say my child will not attend a physical school, then arrange for the home schooling and you will be supported if you follow all the guidelines for home schooling," she said.

Motshekga warned that the impact of not sending children back to school would be severe on pupils.

She explained that the longer pupils were out of school, the more likely they were to not return.

She said this was seen in 2010 during the teachers' strike which saw most pupils, particularly teenagers, not returning to school.

Children from poorer households are also five times more likely to stay out of primary school compared to those from wealthier households, Motshekga said.

According to Unicef, Unesco and the World Health Organisation, staying out of school can lead to teenage pregnancies, sexual exploitation, child marriage, violence and other dangers, Motshekga explained.

It also disrupts essential schooling services, such as feeding schemes and medical services like child vaccinations, mental health and psychosocial support.

It can cause stress and anxiety as children would be taken away from friends and their routine would be interrupted.

Motshekga said this is why they had to ensure pupils go back to school and are protected from Covid-19.