The proposed plan to close schools in South Africa

 ·20 Jul 2020

Education union Naptosa has published the details of a meeting it held with the Department of Basic Education on Friday (17 July) which focused on the effect of the coronavirus on South Africa’s schools.

Naptosa said that the education system is under severe pressure with very low attendance since the return to school of the first cohort of learners.

It added that the Department of Basic Education has not been able to adequately protect teachers, education support personnel and learners by providing them with the necessary protective materials at all schools.

“When the debate about reopening of schools began, it was guided by the science that the children were not susceptible to infections and that even if infected, were not infectious, and although they were not likely to infect other children they could infect those with vulnerabilities, especially the elderly, teachers and education workers,” Naptosa said.

“The South African situation has disproved this science with many learners having been infected and some even losing their lives. Evolving science also now supports the possibility that there could be an airborne spread of the virus.”

The union also highlighted problems with the inconsistency of health guidelines; disruption caused by the closing of schools; and the threat to teacher salaries.

It outlined a number of proposals, which were agreed to with other unions, around the closing of schools:

  • Schools should be closed with immediate effect to allow the peak and winter to pass. The system should use this time to attend to all outstanding issues, including, but not limited to, the provision of water, the building of toilets and additional classes and providing the required number of teachers;
  • Schools should reopen at the end of August 2020 unless the situation dictates otherwise;
  • Education departments should provide teachers with the necessary tools to work from home and prepare work for the reopening of schools and return of learners;
  • Grade 12s should be prioritised and different modes to assist them while they are at home should be investigated. Grade 12s should return on Monday, 17 August 2020;
  • The DBE and stakeholders should discuss the curriculum post this calendar year, focusing on reading for the remaining months of 2020;
  • The Department of Higher Education and Training should be engaged to consider late registration for first years in 2021;
  • All stakeholders should focus on advocacy campaigns, educating the nation about this invisible enemy but also urging them to follow all precautionary measures, including staying at home.

The Sunday Times reported that Basic Education minister Angie Motshekga will discuss these proposals with the cabinet over the coming days.

Education spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga confirmed to the Sunday Times that a meeting of the Council of Education Ministers took place on Saturday (18 July). He said the ministers’ engagement will be ‘announced in due course’.

“We wish to reiterate that it is the cabinet that will make the decision on whether schools close or remain open,” he said.

Minister Motshekga said this week that around 16,000 teachers have comorbidities, putting them at greater risk should they contract Covid-19.

Meanwhile, several teachers have already died from the virus, while hundreds of schools have been forced to close since 8 June, when most Grade 7 and 12 pupils returned to their classrooms.

Read: Government to decide on closing all schools in South Africa: report

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