Basic Education minister, Angie Mothsekga, has outlined her department’s plans for schools as South Africa continues to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic.
Following a statement made by president Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday evening, in which he declared the virus a national disaster, Mothsekga announced that all schools will be closed from Wednesday, 18 March 2020.
“Schools, in particular, have been identified as one of the biggest threats in terms of the transmission,” the minister said in a press briefing on Monday (16 March).
“We considered that closing schools should take place but we also needed to give parents time to prepare for it. The drastic step of closing schools has become necessary but we also needed to ensure that measures are put in place to mitigate the impact.”
Mothsekga said that schools should resume again on 14 April 2020 – unless determined otherwise. This means that 10 school days will be lost as a result of the school closures.
“To compensate for lost days the June holidays will be cut short by a week. Once opened schools will be encouraged to extend tuition hours,” she said.
“It must be noted that this directive affects all schools; public ordinary schools, independent schools and private. The technical aspects of these measures will be addressed by the concerned parties.”
President Cyril Ramaphosa confirmed that 61 South Africans have tested positive for the virus as of Sunday. However, health minister Zweli Mkhize indicated that that this number has increased, although no official numbers have been revealed.
A Grade 9 pupil at Herzlia in the Western Cape tested positive for the coronavirus last week, the first case of a child in South Africa being infected.
The University of Witwatersrand meanwhile, has also confirmed that a student on it medical campus has tested positive for the virus.
Learners are being encouraged to do school work at home, with teachers being asked to provide extra work and to hand over the school books, which are usually kept at school.
To make up for lost time, school days may be made longer once children return – and if the school shutdown is extended, the school year may also be extended.
Mothsekga said that each province, district, circuit and school must have a practical and comprehensive catch-up plan to be implemented.
“As things stand right now and based on expert advice we should be able to manage coronavirus such that the negative impact on schooling is minimised,” she said.
In line with the restrictions made by the president, Mothsekga said that all mass events of more than 100 people scheduled for March and April will be postponed or cancelled with immediate effect.
“I will this morning write to all provinces to inform them that the decree by the president is binding on all of us and that we should work together to implement as directed,” she said.
“It is time that we get parents to play their part in the education of their children. We appeal to each one of us to cooperate and ensure that we put the interest of the children on top of the priority list.”
The minister urged South Africans to familiarise themselves with the directives of the Department of Health and NICD:
- Follow the directives from the president and the minister; read the circular and share the content with parents.
- Be vigilant and look out for symptoms of fever (more than 38 degrees Celsius), coughing and shortness of breath.
- Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
- Practise safe cough etiquette. Cough or sneeze into your flexed elbow or into a tissue and immediately dispose of the tissue in a safe place e.g.bin.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth as well as handshakes.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, spaces and areas of the school.
- Identify, isolate and report learners, teachers or support staff showing symptoms especially if they have had contact with, or have travelled to highly affected countries as reported by the WHO.
Universities are not closing yet
In an inter-ministerial statement on Monday, government said it will meet with the tertiary education sector on Tuesday to agree on a way forward.
Currently, contact lectures are being suspended, which is something being called for across the country.
However, there is no shutdown as yet, due to logistics of residence students, as well as a number of pros and cons associated with such a move. The University of Cape Town is the only institute to push a shutdown by bringing the Easter break forward.
Graduation ceremonies, sports events and other major gatherings will be called off, in line with the president’s declaration.