While schools are set to reopen on Monday, February 15, the impact of the Covid-19 coronavirus continues to be felt in the basic education sector following the death of 1 169 educators since the onset of the virus.
This was according to Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga who on Sunday afternoon gave an update on the government’s readiness for the reopening of schools.
“This year alone, as at Friday February 12, the number of deceased educators stands at 159. Non-teaching staff that passed during this time is at 69,” Motshekga said.
“This is really heartbreaking, as we convey our sincere condolences to the affected families.”
Motshekga stressed the importance of learners and staff at schools adhering to and complying with regulations of the Covid-19 health protocols including social distancing, wearing masks and sanitising “in order to save lives”.
She said: “On the onset we want to emphasise that the health and safety of our teachers and learners and our staff remains our top priority.”
The commencement of the 2021 academic year comes after the re-opening of schools was delayed following an increase in Covid-19 infections during the second wave.
The 2021 academic year was initially set to commence on January 25, for teachers and January 27 for learners. However, the reopening of schools was subsequently delayed to February 1 for teachers and February 15 for learners.
“It has been almost three weeks since we began phasing in the reopening of schools for the year 2021. Our management teams returned on January 25, our teachers have been at work for two weeks since February 1 and doing all sorts of preparations to receive our learners tomorrow [Monday, February 15],” Motshekga explained.
“We have amended our school calender for 2021, as published by the department, confirming that tomorrow will be the first day for public schooling for 2021.”
Speaking to City Press on Sunday, South African Democratic Teachers Union general-secretary, Mugwena Maluleke said that it was imperative that learning resumed as “learners are lagging behind in terms of education,” adding that spaces such as schools should not be categorised as supespreader spaces.
“This is going to have long term consequences for our country because we are going to have a deficit in terms of competencies but also a generation of inequalities where the private schools that are rich, are able to have five days of schooling and the rest of the learners only have about three days of schooling. And that is going to be continuous over a period of 192 days,” Maluleke said.
“The holidays have caused problems for all of us. That is when high numbers of Covid-19 cases and deaths were being reported and at that time schools were not operating, which is something we need to take into account, that where there is no control or protocol adherence, the likelihood of the spread is more prominent. Schools cannot be super spreaders.”
Last month, the marking of matric exam papers suffered a blow following the death of three markers from Covid-19-related illness.
During her address on Sunday afternoon Motshekga said the sector had been allocated “almost 290 000 young people who have been employed on contract as education assistants and general school assistants”.
She said that this was part of the “Basic Education Employment Initiative and it seeks to address Covid-19 related academic disruptions as well providing assistance in dealing with lingering systematic challenges, and provide assistance to workers negatively and directly impacted by the pandemic”.
To this, Maluleke applauded the department, however, appealing that the department should ensure that they are paid.
“That is very positive,” he said.
“But we still need money, because those teacher assistants end up not being paid and then go on strike. It is a positive note, but they [the department] must make sure they pay them [assistants], as they should.”
“We appreciate any form of help that is offered to teachers, especially because of the devastation the virus has caused.”