Schools in South Africa will have to adopt new teaching methods to deal with the coming influx of children returning to schools next month, especially where spacing issues limit capacity for social distancing.
In an update on the re-opening of schools presented on Thursday (25 June), basic education minister Angie Motshekga said that she believes that despite criticism, government made the right decision in open schools at level 3 lockdown.
“The decision to open schools was not taken lightly. We fully appreciate the anxiety and tension that comes with it, but we feel we had to operate again.
“We were driven by the guidance and understanding from the health department, but also by international trends relating to the schooling environment,” she said. All these bodies had research and data that agreed with the decision, the minister said.
Motshekga said that her mandate was that safety of the children comes first, and the salvaging of the school year be contingent on this.
The minister said a number of measures have been taken to protect children going back to school. These include:
- Providing every child with two cloth masks;
- Ensuring that schools are clean before opening;
- Social distancing measures, keeping children 1.5 meters apart – including physical markings;
- Orientating teachers around Covid-19 protocols, and continued educating children on these;
- Employing a full-time screener to ensure anyone who enters the school is cleared;
- Ongoing monitoring of these factors;
- No school is allowed to open unless all these factors are in place.
Motshekga said that since re-opening schools, her department has seen attendance levels of around 98%, which she said is proof that parents trust the department to handle the situation at schools.
A number of provinces have reported new cases of the coronavirus at schools since reopening on June 8, with pupils of Grade 7 and Grade 12 allowed to return to classrooms.
On Thursday, North West Education Department confirmed 30 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the total to 62 cases in the province.
These cases comprise of 22 teachers, six learners, a deputy principal and a non-teaching staff.
And earlier this week, the SABC reported that more than 180 learners at the Makaula Senior Secondary School in Mount Frere, Eastern Cape tested positive for Covid-19.
Motshekga said that it has been easy to deal with returning students because it has been limited to two grades to date, but she warned that a new cohort would be joining in the coming weeks.
In line with the department’s revised school calendar and return programme, from 6 July, the following grades will return to school:
- Grade 1
- Grade 2
- Grade 3
- Grade 6
- Grade 10
- Grade 11
“In terms of our estimation, we will not be able to find spaces in our schools to apply social distancing. Working with out partners, we’re looking at what alternative measures we can put in place – including rotational teaching,” she said.
This would see some learners come to school in the morning, followed by a cleaning session, and then the next cohort coming for class later.
Motshekga said the department is also looking at other ways to increase schools’ capacity, including talking to National Treasury to find any additional resources.
In terms of the grade 12s, the minister said that the matric papers for the year have already been set, and that the class of 2020 will write their exams later, rather than having fewer exams.
The matrics will now write their exams in November – moved from October. This will be in-line with the revised school calendar.
“Provinces are putting in a number of measures so that learners will complete the curriculum,” Motshekga said.
However, for other grades, some topics are being moved from the 2020 curriculum to the 2021 curriculum so that learners do not miss out on any work. This has already been completed by the provinces, she said.