The Western Cape government has called for the scrapping of the ‘one-metre rule’ and a full return to traditional timetables at South Africa’s schools.
In a media briefing on Tuesday (11 January), Basic education minister Angie Motshekga confirmed that Covid-19 restrictions would remain in place at the country’s schools for 2022 as they were at the end of 2021 – including rotational time-tabling.
While many schools returned to full-time teaching in 2021, smaller schools and those with a high number of pupils have had to retain a shift system due to ongoing concerns around the Covid-19 pandemic and potential transmission.
“The fact of the matter is that Covid-19 is very much still with us, and we need to continue to work together to fight it. We are exploring possibilities to return schooling to normal, but we need to do so responsibly,” Motshekga said.
The Western Cape government said that at this stage, approximately only 12% of its primary schools can comply with these regulations. “That means that approximately 88% of our primary schools are attending school on a rotational basis, despite efforts to revert to full attendance,” it said.
“There is strong and mounting evidence to suggest that the learning losses our young people are suffering are devastating and will have long term negative consequences.”
The provincial government said there is a broad agreement in the health fraternity that the most important preventative measures are vaccination, masks and avoiding unventilated spaces. It added that the Western Cape has now passed its peak of the fourth wave, which was significantly less severe than the second and third waves.
“On an analysis of all these factors, it is clear that the risks to the future of our youth are far greater than the risks posed by Covid-19. The pandemic has changed over the last two years, and we must now return to a state of normality.
“Depriving our children of the opportunity to attend school full-time in the current circumstances is no longer justified.
South Africa’s school year officially began on Wednesday (12 January) for the five inland provinces, which include the Free State, Gauteng, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, and the North West.
The four coastal provinces – the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Northern Cape and the Western Cape – will return to school on 19 January.