Opening of schools in South Africa under discussion, as worries grow about ‘repeating last year’s mistakes’

The Department of Basic Education is expected to provide clarity on the opening of South Africa’s schools this week under the country’s extended level 3 lockdown.

In a national address on Monday evening (11 January), president Cyril Ramaphosa said that meetings with officials will take place this week around the education sector.

“As schools and other educational institutions prepare to begin the new academic year, there is understandable concern about whether this is advisable in the midst of a second wave of infections,” he said.

“The National Coronavirus Command Council is dealing with this issue, and we will provide guidance on this matter in the coming days.”

The loss of teaching times as well as later than expected matric exams means that schools will reopen later than planned in 2021, with teachers set to return on 25 January and pupils set to return on 27 January. The first term is set to conclude on 31 March.

The amended 2021 calendar envisages the school year ending on 8 December for students and 10 December for staff.

Updated 2021 calendar

Concerns

The National Professional Teachers Organisation of South Africa (Naptosa) says that it was surprised by Ramaphosa’s comments and the lack of finality around the opening of schools.

In an interview with 702, Naptosa executive director Basil Manuel said that Department of Basic Education needs to ensure schools are ready for the start of the academic year with stringent measures in place to protect learners.

“We were surprised last night when we heard that there is no finality on the opening. However, what became apparent is that are that our scientists are a little twitchy about opening now during the eye of the storm,” he said

Manuel said that Naptosa has now asked for an urgent meeting with the minister of Basic Education so that it can receive absolute clarity.

“We don’t want last-minute announcements and cancellations. We have been at this for a long time, we can’t make the same mistakes we made last year.”

The National Teachers’ Union (Natu) told TimesLive that pupils from historically disadvantaged schools had fallen behind in the curriculum coverage last year, which saw many pupils not completing the academic year.

“Many learners remain unaccounted for between March and December 2020,” said Nata general secretary Cynthia Barnes.

“It is for this reason that we call upon the Department of Education to ensure that its risk-adjusted strategy is sensitive to the fact that some schools are bound to suffer more than others, if schools open before the conditions are right.

“Natu appeals to the department to think very carefully about when schools could safely open.”

Boat cannot be pushed further out

The opposition Democratic Alliance has also called on the department to provide clarity on reports that the opening of schools could be pushed into mid-February.

“We do not support such a delay as this will likely do more harm than good and will only lead to schools being subjected to the same chaos that they were subjected to during the 2020 academic year,” it said.

The DA recognises that South Africa is currently well within its second wave of the Coronavirus pandemic and we strongly believe that the opening of schools should not compromise the health of learners and teachers.

“It is for this reason that the DA calls for educators to be classified as essential frontline workers in order for them to be prioritised after healthcare workers and at-risk civilians for the Covid vaccine.”


Read: The key rules for workers under South Africa’s extended level 3 lockdown

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Opening of schools in South Africa under discussion, as worries grow about ‘repeating last year’s mistakes’