Schools covid-19

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Research study suggests immediate reopening of schools

Researchers at Stellenbosch University warn that over a million kids are being left home ‘alone’ with only working parents as guardians.

Schools covid-19

Photo: Adobe Stock

A study produced by the University of Stellenbosch’s (SU) Department of Economics has suggested that children of all ages should be allowed to return to schools immediately in order to mitigate damage caused by the sustained period of time out of the classroom. 

Two professors from the faculty, Professor Servaas van der Berg and Dr Nic Spaull, recently conducted a research project into the costs associated with the closing of schools and the impact this measure has had on children and the economy. 

“In the beginning, when there was so much uncertainty, we both argued that we agreed with government’s decision to lock down schools and the economy, yet now we know so much more information, so now we no longer support the government’s current plan of action because we don’t think it’s in the best interests of children,” they said, urging schools to reopen soon for all students. 

Millions of children ‘home alone’ 

The researchers are coming up against a litany of counter claims by various education bodies who hope to reverse the decision to open schools, with One SA Movement leader Mmusi Maimane heading back to court over the matter this week.

The report found that following the return to work for millions of South Africans during the Alert Level 3 lockdown phase, over one million children were left at home with the only adult caregiver being employed and working from home. 

“We found is that there are a million children aged zero to six with the only adult caregiver in their household is employed,” they said. 

“So if they go back to work, what happens to those children? Let’s say 80% of them manage to find a neighbour or an extended family member or whatever it is, that still leaves 200 000 very small children aged zero to six home alone.”

They said that the effects of sustaining the classroom hiatus would result in damage that would continue to be felt over the next 10 years. 

After reviewing the evidence presented in this paper, it is our view that keeping children out of school is not in the best interests of the child.” 

“Consequently, 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.”

School closures leading to mental health issues  

Among the social, economic and health costs of the lockdown on children, the research team said that malnutrition and stunting, mental heath factors, as well as routine immunisations being stalled are all resulting from the sustained period away from schools.

“School closures, lockdowns and increased financial stress are likely to have increased the risk of child abuse, mental health breakdowns and the emotional exhaustion of caregivers together with rising rates of depression and anxiety. Recent surveys of children in Nicaragua, Indonesia and a number of other countries have shown that children are at higher risk of lasting psychological distress”

“Children’s routine immunisations, testing for HIV and TB, and health seeking behaviour when children seem sick are all likely to have decreased as a result of the lockdown and school closures. The NICD reports a 48% reduction in TB testing. Any delays in the diagnosis and treatment of HIV in either pregnant mothers or new-born children is likely to have long term consequences”

Recommendations: Open schools immedietely

Van der Berg and Spaull have recommended that all children return to school “without further delay”. 

“Based on the government’s current plans, by the end of Term 2 (7 August 2020) South African children will have lost between 25% and 57% of the ‘normal’ school days scheduled up to that point as a result of COVID-19 school closures,” they said. 

“Given the large social and economic costs of hard lockdowns an wholesale school closures we would strongly caution against future nationwide lockdowns or school closures, even in the presence of a surge in COVID-19 infections.