Changes planned for when schools reopen in South Africa

Basic education minister Angie Motshekga has told school management teams to prepare for the return of a more traditional timetabling system when students return to school later this month.

In a gazette published this week, Motshekga said that educators must continue with teaching and learning from 19 July 2021, in accordance with the timetabling model adopted by the school.

This should continue until 26 July 2021, after which the daily attendance and traditional timetabling model must be effected.

The move to a full return to daily attendance and normal timetables forms part of a concerted push by Motshekga to make up for lost teaching time.

Currently, most students in South Africa are learning in a ‘shift system’, with a large amount of learning and coursework still expected to be done at home in an effort to increase social distancing.

This is in line with planned changes before the country moved to an adjusted level lockdown at the end of June.

The department said that where practicable, teaching and learning may be conducted outside the confines of a classroom. Schools must also use all the available rooms or spaces to prevent overcrowding in a classroom.

The movement of learners must be minimised during teaching time with teachers rotating between lessons. Schools that cannot return to the traditional timetabling model are expected to provide official reasons to the government.

What if schools don’t reopen? 

Motshekga said it will be devastating if the country’s schools are not allowed to reopen on 19 July.

The minister said that the education sector has already lost significant time due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which will have long-term ramifications.

However, she said that ultimately a decision will have to be taken by the department of health advice on the level of the third Covid-19 wave in the country.

“We will still keep it (the date) as we had agreed. But we will not be irresponsible if there are still difficulties by the time we want to open and bring more learners,” she told the Sunday Times.

“We will take the decision close to the time if we want to change. But for now we are not changing any of the plans.”

The reopening of schools and other lockdown restrictions will ultimately be contingent on national government.

In an address on Sunday evening, president Cyril Ramaphosa said that the new restrictions will remain in place for 14 days, until 11 July, and will be assessed thereafter.

However, analysts have already warned that the level 4 lockdown is likely to extend past the original two weeks.

Lost time

Education experts have 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.”

Read: Here is the full list of services available at Home Affairs under South Africa’s level 4 lockdown

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Changes planned for when schools reopen in South Africa