Plan to reopen schools after lockdown takes shape, but some parents, teacher unions don’t think its a good idea

Chief executive of the Suid Afrikaanse Onderwysers Unie
Chief executive of the Suid Afrikaanse Onderwysers Unie

It is possible to save this academic year, but this will be “messy and not a one-size-fit all approach”, says Chris Klopper, the chief executive of the Suid Afrikaanse Onderwysers Unie (SAOU).

Klopper told City Press on Friday that the SAOU was working with the top leadership of the department of basic education in planning for the reopening of schools when the lockdown ends.

He was responding to questions about a document City Press has seen titled Framework for a Curriculum Recovery Plan – Post Covid-19 dated April 11 compiled by the heads of education committee.

The committee comprises the department’s director-general Mathanzima Mweli, deputy directors-general and superintendent-generals of the provincial education departments.

In the document, the committee proposes May 6 as the day that Grades 7 and 12 should resume classes.

It has surfaced amid expectations that Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga would table a proposal at Cabinet on how this academic year could be salvaged at the end of the national lockdown aimed at curbing Covid-19 coronavirus infections.

Read: Angie Motshekga ponders academic calendar

Motshekga’s spokesperson, Hope Mokgatlhe, said the minister would present proposals of the department’s recovery plan at the Cabinet meeting this week.

Read: Extra hours, extra school day? Mixed reactions to Motshekga’s proposal set to be tabled before Cabinet

Klopper said the recovery plan had, to a large extent, been finalised if the lockdown ends on April 30.

“But if that changes it will be difficult to continue with that and a new plan will have to be devised.”

Klopper said the most complex issues facing schools would be maintaining social distancing among pupils and how to ensure pupils are tested so they don’t infect others. If an infected pupil was allowed to attend school, Covid-19 would spread a “like a wild fire”, he said.

Klopper said this was particularly a concern with regards to Grades R to 3 where it would be impossible to implement the 1.5m social distancing.

With regard to phasing-in, Klopper said the plan was to look at Grades 7 and 12 initially.

But there was a strong voice in favour of Grade 1s being included too because they had started learning to read and write and have now lost this competency due to their absence from school, he said.

Klopper said there was a case to be made for this, but the department of health would have to determine how this would be done.

“It has been intimated that if there’s infection at the school, the department of health may close the school. Or if the school isn’t able to comply with social distancing, the department will close the school because of the fear of infections.

“It has been said that they would rather have kids that do not attend school than attend funerals of pupils that have been infected,” Klopper said.

He said it was possible to save the year for Grade 12s as only 24 schooling days have been lost so far.

I’m a Grade 12 mathematics teacher. Minister Motshekga can reopen schools if she wants to kill the whole nation with Covid-19.
A teacher based in KwaZulu-Natal

“If you cancel the June-July exams you win three weeks and it’s possible to win another week somewhere else. So, we don’t foresee a big problem with the Grade 12s. What is also important is that we’ve heard people that say scrap the year. We don’t agree with that.”

The reason for this stance, Klopper said, was because the 24 schooling days lost could be recovered easily.

If classes don’t resume this could lead to the disruption of next year’s schooling calendar.

“Instead of just disrupting one year, it’s possible to disrupt two school years if you follow the plan suggested. It’s not viable to just progress pupils because if you fall in the trap of ‘pass one, pass all’ that [will cause] serious long-term complication.”

Klopper said they also agreed that saving this school year would be a challenge.

But a powerful message, he said, would be to stand together and overcome challenges that have been imposed in the education system.

“I think we can deal with it. It is important to note that it is not going to be a clinical, clear process. It’s going to be messy but we will be able to deal with it. But, what I think is extremely important is that schools will have to communicate clearly, succinctly to the pupils, teachers and parents. It will not be possible to have a one-size fits all approach for all schools,” Klopper said.

Basil Manuel, a National Professional Teacher’s of SA executive member, said they were aware of the proposals and were part of some of the meetings.

“But it’s [the committee’s document] is one of many scenarios and of course even with those there are major issues that we still need to address. Insofar as the academic year, we have been adamant that we are not trying to recover this year. It’s not possible,” Manuel said.

He warned of “unknowns” and possible infections if a positive pupil attended school. “The school may be contaminated and starts another ball game. So [there are] many unknowns and we’ve got to take it one step at a time. Certainly, we are positive about the staggered approach. We are not happy with everything in there but we think a lot of plans are being made but these depend on a whole lot other things,” Manuel said.

When asked to elaborate he said: “I’m simply saying it does not matter how much we plan. It is the minister of health and the president who determine whether we return to normal things and what type of normality. Even the schools in terms of the health standards, they are informed by the minister of health.”

SA Democratic Teacher’s Union general-secretary Mugwena Maluleke said they had not received the final document from Motshekga “so we don’t have a comment”.

Mugwena Maluleke Picture: Muntu Vilakazi

The Federation of School Governing Bodies of SA chief executive Paul Colditz said the committee’s document was shared with them and they were consulted. “We believe that it [the academic year] can be saved.

Extracurricular activities can be cancelled, teaching hours increased, school holidays shortened [not scrapped], unnecessary tests, exams and assessments be done away with, calendar amended for closure of schools later in December.

“The National Senior Certificate exams must be rescheduled to later in year,” Colditz said.

However, returning pupils to school was criticised by concerned parents and teachers this week.

department's, a concerned parent, said it was really shocking to hear about this proposal. “It [department's’s plan] is not making any sense.

Schools must be the last place to open for mass gathering. Kindly pass this fear to the relevant parties as soon as possible so that people can be sensible. No minister or union can stop the virus and if something bad happens they will only apologise. Health is our wealth.”

Sadia Wadee said in order to ease the strain on pupils, teachers and parents, subjects such as life orientation and creative arts, should be scrapped because they unnecessarily increased the workload.

Wadee said this would enable teachers, pupils and parents to focus better on maths, languages, science and humanities.

“If schooling returns to normal, kids must only write [exams] in the main subjects to pass ... This will free thousands of teachers to assist children who were disadvantaged [with on internet] during the lockdown.

“These teachers can assist with catch up lessons on work missed during this crisis and assist children who have fallen behind due to the national lockdown. “This will ease the strain on the country’s education system this year,” Wadee said.

A teacher based in KwaZulu-Natal, said: “I’m a Grade 12 mathematics teacher. Minister Motshekga can reopen schools if she wants to kill the whole nation with Covid-19. Data prices must fall so that we can assist with online teaching and learning.”

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