Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga said on Tuesday that schools would be reopening their doors on 1 June, along with the country moving to alert level 3 of lockdown restrictions against the coronavirus.
Motshekga said the National Coronavirus Command Council and Cabinet had approved the reopenings.
“Independent and public ordinary schools will open even in the metropolitan areas. Every school will have to adhere to and observe health and safety protocols that will be put in place,” she said.
As she had announced earlier, the department would start with grades 7 and 12, and small schools.
“The other grades will follow in due course.”
Learners and teachers in other provinces would be able to return to their residences prior to the reopening, with arrangements being made for this. All learners, educators and support staff would receive orientation and training at the start of the reopening.
Schools as social institutions would be serviced by the psychosocial support services of the departments of social development and health.
“We have been working closely together with other departments in the social cluster,” added Motshekga.
Psychologists and social workers in basic education who had prior training on counselling would also be able to use their skills to support schools.
“We are mindful of the needs of learners with disabilities. The DBE is working with provinces to ensure that special schools are adequately provided for in all the plans we have put together.”
A revised school calendar would be gazetted “soon”, indicating the opening and closing dates and the breaks in between.
“We will work with provinces to make sure that no school is left behind.”
She recognised that the virus had “brought a lot of trauma and anxiety to all of us as a nation and the rest of the world. It has turned our lives upside down and there is a lot of fear about what will happen next,” but education could not be stopped indefinitely.
The department had taken on board many “representations from parents and organisations” and Motshekga expressed appreciation for the input.
“There was always certainty that school would have to be reopened,” she said, however. “Cabinet agreed that as much as it was important to save the academic year, key principles to guide our work should be informed by the safety of learners, teachers and workers in our schools while ensuring that the reopening of schools does not contribute in any way to the spread of the virus.”
The department had relied heavily on expert medical advice under the leadership of the department of health, especially regarding the “whole debate on the impact of Covid-19 on children and adults, and we are following those debates and use them to guide us.”
During the lockdown, 1,577 schools had been broken into around the country, with 463 of them in KwaZulu-Natal and 336 in Gauteng.
“This is truly a disturbing trend that will set us back in our efforts of trying to get back the academic programme. We appeal to members of the public to help the police bring the perpetrators to justice.”
State of readiness
Motshekga said the Council of Education Ministers (CEM) met on Monday to consider the latest reports on the state of readiness for the reopening of schools.
“We are confident that the reopening of school across provinces will happen as outlined in the protocol that has been developed. The reports we got are showing that preparations have been taking place and good progress has been made. All indications are that the preconditions for the reopening of schools will be met, obviously with the premium being on saving lives.
Sanitisers, masks, water and sanitation were being delivered to all schools, which would be cleaned, “and most are being cleaned as we speak”.
The minister said the coronavirus had forced them to “re-engineer the basic education system” and they had come up with several measures to help the sector recover some of the lost time.
“The amount of time available in a school day will determine the duration of the period by subject. We will be using innovative methods about how we meet health, safety, social or physical distancing requirements. The trimmed curriculum will be sent to school for planning purposes; it is being worked on a continuous basis.”
School principal and school management teams (SMTs) would assume overall responsibility for the day-to-day running of schools.
“They are expected to put measures in place for equitable allocation of periods or time for teachers to cover the scope of the curriculum in saving the academic year.
“Schools must be aware that all curriculum enrichment programmes will be put on hold until further notice. We want to focus on the core business of basic education, which is curriculum implementation.”
School sports would not be permitted since they “increase the chances of infection and undermine our efforts of containing the coronavirus”.
“When class is dismissed, learners must go home. We urge parents to work with us on this matter.”
The school nutrition programme would be reopened for all learners when Grades 12 and 7 were reintroduced to schools on 1 June 2020.
“All food handlers will be supplied with the required personal protective equipment including gloves, aprons and cloth masks. These have already been procured by provinces as part of a basic health and hygiene package.
“The school nutrition budget will be utilised according to the revised school calendar and, where feasible, school meals will also be extended to catch-up programmes for the Grade 12s.”
Safety protocols would also be in place for scholar transport, including hand sanitation, social distancing and the wearing of masks.
The department had realised that it needed a different approach when it came to special schools.
“We are working with organisations who are advising us on the best way forward regarding the phased-approach of the special schools.
“Our planning and procurement has considered the needs of learners with disabilities and those in special schools. Provinces have put in place plans that will ensure that no child is compromised.”
The minister said the biggest task would be ongoing monitoring.
“As in all other previous occasions all the plans, the standard operating procedures, the guidelines and relevant documents will be made available on the DBE website from tomorrow. This is important for accountability and more important for support. It is important that we understand the work that needs to be done so we can support schools accordingly.
“We have appointed a consortium of independent monitors to help us. The success of the reopening process depends on the availability of basic services. We have partnered with other government department to help us.
“We will work with more urgency to ensure that all schools are adequately prepared for the return of learners back to learning even though it will be under different conditions.”
– The Citizen