The Department of Basic Education has outlined its plans for the reopening of South Africa’s schools as the country begins easing lockdown restrictions.
Speaking at a media briefing on Tuesday (19 May) minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga said the first schools will be opened from 1 June – including public and private schools, and those in metropolitan areas which may face stricter lockdowns.
The minister noted that this will include students from grades 7 and 12, as well as ‘smaller’ schools that do not have a large number of students.
Motshekga said that information on these smaller schools as well as information about the return of other grades will be communicated later in the month.
She added that her department plans to gazette a revised school calendar before the end of the month, which will detail updated holidays and dates.
Ahead of the return of learners, school management teams and teachers will arrive at schools on the 25th May, and will receive full training about health and safety standards. This is a week later than planned because of the delayed distribution of safety materials, the minister said.
Motshekga said that the government has come up with measures to make up for lost time. “The virus has forced us to re-engineer the basic education system,” she said.
Government placed all education institutions on early recess from 15 March after president Cyril Ramaphosa declared the coronavirus pandemic a national disaster.
Parents and teachers have raised concerns about the health aspects of sending their children to school, most notably relating to social distancing. Many parents have said that they are prepared to forfeit the school year, rather than to risk the health of their child.
However, Mothshekga said that government was committed to ensuring that students, teachers and support staff are safe.
Parents can choose to keep their children at home, deputy minister Makgabo Mhaule said, adding that she encourages home schooling.
Mothshekga noted that as many as 1,577 schools have been vandalized, burnt and robbed countrywide over the lockdown period – the majority being in KwaZulu-Natal. “This is a real setback,” the minister said.