Early reopening of schools, new subjects and infrastructural redress will be among the key priorities of the department of basic education this year, said the department’s director-general, Mathanzima Mweli.
He said since the education system had been operating an abnormal schedule of schooling on alternating days and weeks, curriculum coverage had not been at the required level. As a result, a three-year plan – starting this year – had been developed to bridge the gaps.
As part of this plan, he said, many schools might opt to reopen earlier than expected, which is a choice that each school or province may make for itself, depending on its particular circumstances.
For schools choosing not to open earlier, pupils are scheduled to return on January 27, while teachers are expected to start two days earlier.
“However, many teachers and pupils will elect to start much earlier, particularly those children who’ll be entering Grade 12, so they can catch up quickly. For other grades, we’ve devised a strategy that we’ll begin implementing next year,” said Mweli.
He added that the department was also looking at prioritising water, sanitation and infrastructure at schools.
“Our survival under Covid-19 depends on having water and sanitation in place, so we’re working during December and January to make sure that we don’t have challenges about these issues when schools reopen. We’re also going to see more activities such as greater deployment of information and communication technology [ICT].”
He said training teachers in ICT and monitoring what was happening in schools were already under way. Every school, said Mweli, currently has a computer.
He says he will have engaged with principals by the end of February, and that meetings will happen on a virtual platform – to comply with Covid-19 regulations – rather having face-to-face engagements and having to travel from one education district to another.
Mweli added that unions had agreed to the three-year recovery plan.
“They support it 100%,” he said.
Drop-outs and grade repetition rates
Mweli said the department was tracking the drop-out rate by monitoring the number of pupils who enrolled for this new school year and were not accounted for at the end of it.
He said the department would also be able to meet budget demands in the new year, which could escalate due to an increase in the number of pupils repeating grades combined with newcomers. Government currently subsidises pupils attending public and independent schools. The public school subsidy depends on the quintile ratio, or classifications, of the school.
At no-fee schools (quintiles 1 to 3), which are poorly resourced or located in poor communities, government subsidises pupils more than those in well-resourced schools (quintiles 4 and 5).
Mweli said the grade repetition rate was not expected to be higher than what has been the norm.
“We’ve been looking at numbers that have not been accounted for. Those might be repeats in the system. We’ve planned for them, so the system should be able to accommodate them. We’ve planned with provinces for any eventuality,” he said.
Mweli said he was grateful to parents who sent their children to school throughout this disruptive and dangerous year.
“Because of their cooperation, we’ve been able to secure 2020. Without their cooperation we’d have lost the 2020 school year and a generation of pupils. Many would have had to repeat the year or would have opted to drop out,” he said.
Regarding new subjects, Mweli said computer coding and robotics were on the cards for more schools next year. Pupils, he said, need these subjects, as they are intrinsic to skills needed for the working world.
“At the height of the digital age, we need programmes and platforms that have been developed in South Africa. The curriculum has been developed for foundation level up to the senior phase. We’re implementing it in 200 schools. We actually started implementing it this year, but that was disrupted due to the lockdown,” said Mweli.