The impact on Education in the time of COVID-19

26 June 2020 10:00 by Chante Botha

Insights on the regulations and directives the South African government and schools implemented to protect children’s rights to education under national lockdown.

“Child Protection Week” reminds us that the rights and interests of children are of paramount importance. The national lockdown meant that many rights and freedoms, such as the freedom of movement and the right to basic education were restricted for some, while others were completely deprived of these rights.

To curb the risk of infection and protect children, the government opted to close schools from the 18th of March 2020. As new levels of lockdown are implemented and new regulations drafted we need to assess whether children in South Africa, a most vulnerable group in society, have been protected during the Covid-19 pandemic and how these “protective” measures have and will continue to affect their lives and interests.

  • Under national lockdown schools remained closed and learners had to adjust to online classrooms, or the collection of schoolwork, and food from school feeding schemes around South Africa, became the norm.
  • Lack of financial means, access to digital devices and the required internet connections to support an online education scheme led to many children being disadvantaged or being forced to go without an education whilst under National lockdown.
  • In some communities, businesses assisted with the provision of free digital devices and financial aid, in others, schools have attempted to provide disadvantaged or younger students with course work packets. This has not been implemented on a national basis and no mention has been made regarding the infringement of the right to education for all.
  • Online learning, while allowing many children to continue their education, has increased the risks of exposure of children to online predators. The lack of security on platforms such as Zoom have been highlighted at this time.
  • The re-opening of schools commenced on a phased in approach, planned from 01 June and delayed to 08 June, with the second phase commencing 06 July and final phase on 3 August 2020, brings new fears of increased infection rates.
  • The government has implemented “protective measures” that institutions re-opening need to adhere to. Schools that fail to comply will remain closed until such time as they are deemed compliant.
  • Parents may apply to keep their children at home instead of sending them back to school, if it is in the best interest of the child.
  • During the phasing in process many learners will continue using online learning methods and are thus still exposed to online threats, while digitally disadvantaged students, with no or limited support structures in place to assist them will continue to be deprived of their education during this period.
  • The rights to education, privacy and safety and security online are just some of the gross violations suffered by children during this pandemic.[1]

Piece adapted from an article written by Chante Botha, Law Content and Legal Citator Editor, LexisNexis South Africa.

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