South Africa’s new school calendar could face legal challenges over a lack of holidays

The Department of Basic Education has published its updated academic calendar for schools in South Africa for 2021, with the new dates already facing criticism over tight scheduling.

Afrikaans newspaper Beeld reported that at least one teacher’s union is consulting legal experts due to the new calendar only offering 19 holiday days, while being extended by a number of weeks.

The amended calendar comes after the return of public schools was delayed by several weeks until 15 February, due to the impact of a second Covid-19 wave in the country.

The updated calendar will now see the academic year end on 15 December 2021, with a total of 192 actual school days planned (from 195 days, previously).

The new term dates are as follows:

  • 15 February – 23 April;
  • 3 May – 9 July;
  • 26 July – 1 October;
  • 11 October – 15 December.

While missing out on several weeks of schooling at the start of the year, the updated calendar will mean that students will miss less than a week of teaching time at the cost of holidays.

Similarly, teachers will still be expected to report to school for over 200 days. This will come at the cost of the April holiday being shortened by a week, while the December holidays will lose up to two weeks.

While the latest delay is not as disruptive as those seen in the 2020 academic year, schools are still expected to implement other measures to make up for lost teaching time.

Last week, parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Basic Education said that it welcomes the intention to hold extra-curricular classes to ensure that learners are adequately prepared for examinations.

The committee also welcomed the plans for additional support to teachers in relation to learning and assessment guidelines to support teachers in the implementation of the recovery plan.

The committee also called on the Department of Basic Education to ensure that schools have replacement teachers so that teaching and learning continues in those cases where teachers are unavailable due to increased risk caused by co-morbidities.

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South Africa’s new school calendar could face legal challenges over a lack of holidays