Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) believes that children should be accessed for their views in media coverage, when it is in their best interest to do so. When this is not done, such as in the article by The Citizen titled, “Schools could be ‘useful points’ for screening – back to school plan” (20/04/2020), the media misses an opportunity not only to access children to get their views and opinions on important issues that affect their lives, but also promote the children’s right to freedom of expression.

The article outlines the Department of Basic Education’s draft framework for a curriculum recovery plan, which has been made public by News24. The recovery plan suggests possible dates for the phasing in of schools according to grades, safety measures that will be put in place for learners returning to schools and non-teaching staff, as well as resources and support that will be provided for teachers.

The story also suggests that the re-opening of schools will also facilitate the wider screening of learners for COVID-19. A quote about the Education Department’s plan states in the story that “By conducting tests and screenings in schools, the target of people being screened and tested before winter could be exceeded, which could help flatten the curve even faster”.

In the midst of such uncertainty surrounding the 2020 education calendar, the journalist must be commended for reporting such an important issue affecting all children in South Africa, and outlining possible plans put forth by Basic Education. 

With that said, the article missed a great opportunity to include children’s views and opinions especially because the story not only focuses on their education plans but also highlights a very sensitive but real issue, which is the screening of learners for COVID-19.

By interviewing some learners, the journalist would have gotten the opportunity to get children’s views on how the nationwide lockdown has impacted on their schooling, how they felt about being tested for the virus and what strategies they might use to adjust to the new normal of social distancing and basic sanitation when back at school.

The challenge with not having children speak in stories about them (when it is in their best interest), is that their right to freedom to impart their ideas, as enshrined in Chapter 2, Article 16.1b of the Bill of Rights, is violated.

MMA understands that accessing learners regarding such a complex issue during the lockdown might pose a challenge to the media. However, the option of interviewing older learners who are not affected directly by the virus and conducting interviews via phone calls or through social media platforms is encouraged as alternative means to include children’s voices in a story like this. The media could also get in touch with organisations that work with children for easy access to children in order to interview them about their views and opinions.    

By Phakamile Khumalo