A recent study by Stellenbosch university academics entitled Counting the Cost – COVID-19, Children and Schooling, argues that children under 19 years of age are more likely to die of unrelated causes than of Covid-19 in 2020
They argue that “all children should return to schools, crèches and ECD centres without any further delay. The profound costs borne by small children and families as a result of the ongoing nationwide lockdown and school closures will be felt for at least the next 10 years.”
Children left home alone while parents go to work
Under Level 3 most preschools and creches are still closed while parents with jobs need to go to work . According to the study “Of highest concern are the almost one million children (974 000) below the age of six who have no other adult caregiver in the household except a working parent. It is highly plausible that hundreds of thousands of these children would be left home alone in households without an adult caretaker if their employed caregiver was forced to return to work to earn an income and sustain her family.” This is a frightening reality and one that can only be solved if schools reopen
Contracting Covid-19 is less risky for children than other causes of death
The authors claim that the total number of annual deaths from regular causes in South Africa is significantly higher than the projected deaths from COVID-19 and that in formulating strategies the government needs to recognise tthe additional risks from “acute malnutrition and associated mortality in children (especially pneumonia, diarrhoea and HIV/Aids) arising from the lockdown.”
Loss of learning
- School closures mean that time lost will be hard to catch up.
- Attempts at technologically supported learning has meant that ” for the poorest 80% of learners in South Africa, virtually no curricular learning is taking place during lockdown.”
Given the low risk of children contracting Covid-19 and widespread overcrowding in classrooms, Van der Berg and Spaull write that it is pointless to require local schools to enforce physical distancing within classrooms, instead they recommend hand washing, mask-wearing and physical distancing on playgrounds should be implemented for older children.
They argue not just that schools should be re-opened immediately, but also that government should refrain from closing schools nationally again in future, no matter the surge in Covid-19 cases.
“Millions of South African children’s education and mental health have been compromised in this initial period of uncertainty. Given what is now known about the mortality rates of Covid-19, we believe that the ongoing disruptions to children’s care, education and health are no longer justified,” Van der Berg and Spaull conclude.
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