South African schools and universities to open later in 2021

Basic education minister Angie Motshekga says that the country’s schools will reopen later than usual in 2021, with an official calendar to be published before the end of the week.

In a press briefing on Thursday (1 October), Motshekga said that the reopening date is 25 January 2021.

“We are fully aware that the country needs the school calendar for effective planning purposes and we have worked hard to ensure that it is done properly, taking into account the disruptions that took place in 2020.

“We will need to carry over some of the curriculum work into 2021. We have done our best to accommodate the interests of everybody but the priority will be our learners.”

Motshekga said that the country’s schools are still set to sit their matric exams in December. She explained that the late start time is to ensure that schools cover the necessary curriculum which was held up by the coronavirus pandemic.

With the June matric exams being combined with the traditional end of year exams, Motshekga said that this will be the largest public examination which South Africa has ever conducted – with over a million learners set to write.

These National Senior Certificate exams will start on 5 November and will conclude on 15 December 2020. Marking will be concluded on 22 January and the results released on 23 February 2021.


In a press briefing on Wednesday, Higher Education minister Blade Nzimande said that each of the country’s institution has taken a different approach to the aphased-in return of students, dependent on their and readiness.

Nzimande said that government has colour-coded institutions. Red for institutions that are at a high-risk for not completing the academic year effectively, orange for those who are at a medium-risk and green for those who are on track to complete.

“As at the 17 September, the picture had moved somewhat, with seven institutions in the medium-risk category and 19 that are at low-risk. Currently, no institutions remain at high risk,” he said.

“For the universities at medium-risk, general observations are that they still have some way to go to complete their first semester programme. Summative assessments, where these are required, have yet to begin.”

At these institutions, a significant number of students seem still not fully engaged in teaching and learning programme, Nzimande said.

“It is anticipated that as students return to campus with the move to Level 1, the teaching and learning programme will advance more rapidly, with catch-up programmes for students who have not been able to engage satisfactorily to be implemented,” he said.

In terms of completion of the 2020 academic year:

  • 10 universities aim to complete the academic year before the end of the 2020 calendar year;
  • 4 universities plan to end in January 2021;
  • 7 universities plan to complete in February 2021;
  • 5 universities plan to complete in March 2021.

“This staggered ending of the academic year is linked to the ability to support students and to ensure that all students have been given a reasonable opportunity to succeed,” said Nzimande.

“There were some institutions that were not able to start their academic year effectively before the lockdown was implemented, and that is also reflected in this staggered end to the academic year.”

Because of the late release of matric results, the start of the new academic year for first-year students will be staggered between 8 March 2021 and the 12 April 2021, he said.

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South African schools and universities to open later in 2021