Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga has outlined the new return plans for South African schools.
On Friday (3 July) the Department of Basic Education (DBE) postponed the return of a number of school grades, citing the rising number of coronavirus cases in the country.
The department said that the decision was taken after the Council of Ministers (CEM) received a number of briefings from education stakeholders.
In a media briefing on Sunday afternoon, Motshekga said that schools are a direct microcosm of the society in which they are based, with a number of infections reported since the return of grade 7 and 12 students on 8 June.
She highlighted that 968 schools (around 4%) of schools had to close at some point due to coronavirus cases, while just over 2,400 teachers and 1,260 learners were reported as infected.
Around 2.5% of teachers have been given permission to work from home due to age and comorbidities which put them at added risk, Motshekga said.
“Almost all schools are going to have to adopt innovative timetables and spacing arrangements to accommodate the return of more learners,” she said.
“We are painfully aware that a lot of school days have been lost and for some grades even more (time) will be lost.”
Motshekga said that the return of grades would be staggered as follows:
- Only Grade 6 and Grade 11 students will return on Monday (6 July);
- Provinces and institutions which are ready and safe can phase in their Early Childhood Development (ECD) programmes from 6 July;
- Because of the different readiness levels of the country, provinces which are not ready to receive Grade-R students from 6 July must provide a plan for the reincorporation of these learners by no later than the end of July. Those institutions which are ready, can accept Grade-R and Pre-Grade-R learners from Monday;
- All Grade-R and Pre-Grade-R learners who have already returned to school must remain in school;
- Schools that deal with special needs students will be opened at a later date;
- Other grades which were due to open as part of the second cohort (including Grades 1, 2, 3 and 10) should return to schools ‘in an orderly staggered fashion within the time frames gazetted’.
Schools are likely to face chaos on Monday (6 July) as children in grades R, 6 and 11 are expected to return to class, says professional teachers group, Naptosa.
The group said that schools are simply not ready to take on the next wave of learners and recommends that the entire process be delayed until August.
Speaking to Rapport, Naptosa said that over 18 schools it visited this past week did not have the required personal protection equipment to take on new learners.
Covid-19 cases among teachers and school kids, meanwhile, are also spiking – with 775 schools affected. Around 523 learners and 1,169 teachers are infected.
Naptosa told Rapport that confusion persists around the issue, as the department has not yet gazetted the changes laid out by the minister, and no reasoning has been provided.
“The opening and shutting of schools is massively disruptive and (these types of changes) place school heads in an incredibly difficult position,” the group said.
While Naptosa has suggested that the return of other grades be pushed back to August, teachers and education groups have expressed concern about the rapid rise of Covid-19 cases, especially in provinces like Gauteng, and have proposed schools only return to normal function after the peak of the pandemic.
Various education departments across provinces told Rapport that they are guided by the Department of Basic Education on the matter.