Basic education minister Angie Motshekga has outlined the new regulations for schools as part of the country’s move to an adjusted level 4 lockdown.
In a media briefing on Monday, Motshekga said that all schools will be closed for contact classes from Wednesday (30 June), with Thursday and Friday used for the closure of schools for educators and management staff.
Learners in public, independent, and private schools should be released for their winter holidays from 30 June, but parents with children in special needs schools, or who are boarding at schools far from home, will have until 2 July at the latest to collect them.
As public schools are closing a week earlier than originally planned, students will return on 19 July.
School feeding schemes and winter school will continue, but schools must ensure that there is limited contact so as to prevent any super-spreader events.
The minister said that teachers will continue to be vaccinated during this time, with a number of provinces stating that they have already vaccinated nearly all educators.
Motshekga has previously been a strong advocate of keeping schools open – and she warned that there are significant implications in the teaching time that has been lost due to lockdown restrictions.
She said that the education sector has suffered severely in terms of learning and teaching because of the virus outbreak.
The government had previously pushed for the full return of primary school children on 28 July. However, it is not clear if these plans will now be cancelled given the new restrictions.
Education experts have already warned that the delayed 2021 school calendar, in combination with lost teaching time in 2020, is likely to have a significant impact on South African students.
After losing months of teaching time in 202 due to the Covid-19 lockdown, schools had a delayed start of a month in 2021 due to the resurgence of the second Covid-19 wave.
In a briefing to parliament in January, the Department of Education’s director-general Mathanzima Mweli said that younger students are particularly at risk of forgetting about skills and knowledge acquired at school if they stop learning for extended periods of time.
“This creates a challenge of ‘accumulated gaps’ as they continue into further grades,” he said.
At the other end of the scale, Mweli said that the department was concerned about the grade 12 cohort of 2021, who lost significant teaching time as grade 11 pupils in 2020.
“We have narrowed the curriculum as part of a process known as ‘trimming’ which means that these students were not exposed to the full curriculum. However, in matric, they will be examined on the full contents of Grades 10, 11 and 12.
“The further delay of teaching this year places a huge burden on the system as we now not only have to catch up on Grade 12 content but also on the Grade 11 content which was lost last year. It is going to be extremely difficult for the education system to recover the learning losses.”