Schools reopening: Basic education dept still consulting stakeholders, as SA waits

2020-05-18 13:47

The Department of Basic Education is in continued engagement with various stakeholders on the state of readiness for schools to resume from 1 June.

Minister Angie Motshekga was expected to give an update on preparations for the reopening schools on Monday, but ongoing engagements resulted in another postponement to Tuesday.

The department is mapping ways to ensure that schools reopen under safe conditions that will avoid the risk of Covid-19 spreading once the phasing in of pupils commences.

Teacher unions and school associations have been involved in ongoing talks with the department on how teaching and learning would be carried out and whether all provinces were ready with necessary personal protective equipment (PPEs).

According to Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools (Fedsas) CEO Paul Colditz, some schools were ready, while others were not.

He said the biggest challenge in provinces such as the Eastern Cape was the delivery of PPEs to various schools.   

"Eastern Cape is honest about it. They are not sure if they will be able to deliver by the end of May. They are working hard, but they had challenges with the cancellation of contracts. 

READ | Gauteng legislature warns against 'senseless and suicidal' attempt to reopen schools

"It's clear that provinces are struggling to reopen. Not all of them; Western Cape and Gauteng say they are [ready]," Colditz said.

In April, Motshekga indicated that several non-negotiable measures needed to be in place before schools could reopen. 

Colditz said, while the state of readiness of other provinces was uncertain, the federation believed there was still time for them to get things in order. He added that they were concerned that not all provinces were in the same state. 

Too complicated

The department is reportedly considering a proposal that would see schools in Covid-19 hotspots not reopening in June. 

The National Professional Teachers Organisation of SA(Naptosa), however, said it did not support the approach because it would leave many pupils behind. 

"It's far too complicated. What will you do with matriculants, with people who travel in and out of those areas? Can we leave them behind? And that is the difficulty, and so we don't support that [approach]," Naptosa executive director Basil Manuel said.

Manuel said that, while the Western Cape and Gauteng had said they were ready, the union believed there were still dozens of schools in the provinces that had not yet received PPEs.

Manuel added that the unions would be engaging with the minister later in the day before she makes her address to the nation. 

ALSO READ | Education rights groups demand clarity, details from Motshekga about reopening of schools

Fedsas, on the other hand, said it believed schools should open simultaneously, but it would be in the best interests of people to have the ones in hotspots remain closed.

Colditz said his federation was calling for Motshekga to rope in medical experts to educate concerned parents who were reluctant for schools to reopen.

He said a snap survey conducted by Fedsas showed that some parents preferred for schools to remain closed, adding that he believed reasons behind that were that parents did not have enough knowledge on the risks and safety measures - and state of readiness of schools.

Colditz said that medical experts had been saying that children were the least susceptible to infection and that their transmission rates were not very high.

"My understanding is that it is safer for children to be at school than at home. And obviously, when children are at school, you can teach them about [prevention of disease], whereas when they are at home, you don't know what they are being taught," Colditz said.

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