More changes planned for schools in South Africa

 ·10 Aug 2021

The Department of Basic Education says it will consider reducing social distancing requirements at schools in South Africa to allow more learners to return to daily timetables.

Primary school students in South Africa returned to full-time teaching for the first time in more than a year on 2 August, as the government aims to make up for the teaching time lost during the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, a number of schools warned that they can’t return to full-time teaching as they cannot meet the gazetted one-metre social distancing requirement between learners.

Basic Education minister Angie Mothsekga said that the government is now looking at further reducing this requirement to 0.5 metres to accommodate more learners.

Mothsekga said that primary schools were allowed to return to full-time teaching on the condition that national health and safety protocols were followed.

A further reduction of social distancing requirements would need approval at a national level and from the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC).

However, Mothsekga said that advice received from medical experts shows that a reduction of 0.5 metres for smaller children would not be a safety risk and would not breach government protocols.

Teachers unions have slammed the proposed change, as they feel they have not been sufficiently consulted.

In a joint statement published last week, five of the country’s largest teacher unions said that they are in favour of a ‘return to normality’ to ensure that the traditional timetables in schools may be reintroduced, but it cannot be at the expense of compliance with the required health and safety protocols.

“It is our contention that this matter must be the subject of genuine consultations with the organised teaching profession and that it must be supported by scientific evidence that the planned reduction will not lead to further infections among learners, educators and members of the broader community.

The unions said that no scientific evidence thus far has been provided to the unions in connection with the acceptability of such a reduction.

“Our advice to schools in the interim is that where the one metre cannot be complied with, the schools should follow the deviation provisions as contained in the gazette and continue with rotational timetabling.

“This is done in the best interest of the child, educators and the community and to ensure that schools do not become super- spreaders but rather the barriers against the transmission.”

Read: Government’s plans for masks and Covid screening as primary schools fully re-open in South Africa

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