Teachers, parents and kids alike have been waiting with bated breath to hear what their fate would be.
Deputy Education Minister Reginah Mhaule shed some light on the matter when he announced the government’s decision to delay the reopening of both public and private schools due to the rapid increase in Covid-19 cases.
He said school management teams will go back on 25 January as planned, but teachers will now start on 1 February, followed by pupils on 15 February.
The debate has been raging about what’s best, with some claiming that kids will suffer if they don’t return to school and others saying it will put too many lives at risk. At the end of the day, health triumphed over education.
Drum speaks to some of those directly affected by the government’s decision to get their views on the delay.
Dorcas Lukhele, a teacher at Ephes Mamkeli Secondary School in Benoni, says she’s happy with the decision.
“I trust the judgment of the Department of Education. I believe they wouldn’t have pushed back the dates if there was no need to do so. I know this was for the safety of all learners and staff.
“The last thing we need is infections of teachers and learners because, as we know, the hospitals are already overcrowded.”
Dorcas recalls concerns from the first wave of the virus when people were worried that learners would get infected at school and take the virus home, risking the lives of elderly family members. She says she fears for teachers’ health.
“Many educators in our schools have underlying health issues. Forcing them to return to an environment that could make them catch the virus is not smart. As it stands, we have lost an educator in our school and we wouldn’t want to lose any more.”
Parents’ reactions to the delay have been mixed.
One parent, Soniwe Dhlamini admits she's disappointed but appreciates that health has been prioritised.
“My daughter and I were very eager for schools to open because she was going to start high school,” she tells Drum. “We’ve bought the uniform and she tries it on every day. We were very excited about the new chapter of our lives.
“But I understand that it is for the protection of learners and teachers that the schools are opening later.
“We sincerely hope the government will use this time to ensure schools are ready and they put the necessary measures into place.”
Echoing her mother, Thandokuhle Dhlamini tells us she was very much looking forward to going to her new school but she’s okay with the decision for now because she fears contracting the virus and infecting her family members.
Thobile Nkosi is less forgiving. Her 17-year-old son is about to start matric and she feels the government has had ample time to get schools ready for the new academic year.
“I don’t think it’s acceptable that my child has to spend more time at home because of a government that’s not prepared.
“From last year, children have been sitting at home being deprived of the quality education we pay for. They knew very well that the virus would not disappear when 2020 ended.
“When learners were at home over the December holidays, they should have been preparing schools for the new academic year. They should’ve ensured that all learners and teachers had PPE’s (personal protective equipment) ready for when they returned. If they carry on like this, they will lose another academic year.
“Over and above that, we now have to find ways to keep the kids entertained at home. We have to relook at allowing them things like playing with other children to limit the exposure they have to other people.”
She says she hopes the date will not be pushed back again and that the government will use this time more effectively.
Schools are not the only ones affected by their education being pushed back. Universities have also been delayed, with many not reopening for teaching until mid-March at the earliest.
Karabo Leshaba (22) is a student at University of Johannesburg and she’s concerned about how students will cope.
“As it is, the academic material we have is far too much for a year. Now we have to deal with the added pressure of getting through that work in less time.
“I don’t think it’s realistic. E-learning doesn’t make it any easier because you basically have to be your own teacher. Then there are issues of data, and so on. It’s all too much for students.
“I can only imagine how unbearable the transition will be for first-year learners. I know it isn’t an easy one under normal, favourable circumstances, so I imagine it’s going to be 10-times worse now.
“Last year was not an easy one for me at all,” she admits.