Back to school: SGBs, unions, education dept must speak with one voice, says expert

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Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga.
Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga.
Chanté Schatz/News24
  • The Department of Basic Education has decided to use the first week of June to orientate teachers and non-teaching staff - and ensure that all schools receive safety material in order to be Covid-19 compliant.
  • Grade 7 and 12s, who were meant to be phased in from Monday, will now be returning on 8 June.
  • Education expert Mary Metcalfe believes the department, teacher unions, SGBs and communities need to work together to ensure schools are ready. 

School governing bodies (SGB), teachers' unions and the Department of Basic Education need to speak with one voice and have a common understanding of what needs to be done for schools to be ready to reopen for pupils, says education expert Professor Mary Metcalfe.

Metcalfe was speaking to News24 on Sunday evening after Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga announced that following consultations with the Council of Education Ministers (CEM) on Saturday, they had decided that schools would reopen on Monday, but pupils would only return from 8 June.

The department announced the decision on Sunday evening shortly after postponing a much-anticipated briefing on the state of readiness of schools.

Explaining the reasons for the last-minute about-turn, the department said the CEM was concerned that in some provinces personal protective equipment (PPE) for pupils had not been received and some schools had not been ready for their return.

But Metcalfe said if there was an understanding between all stakeholders involved, they would be able to communicate decisions and take the public into their confidence.

READ | School reopening: 'The timelines were unrealistic' - unions react to postponement

"The best place for decisions to be made about a school is already at a local level with local leadership at school and parental level working together with community structures to ensure that a school is ready so that parents have confidence," Metcalfe said.

Last Friday, the department released the rules and guidelines for the reopening of Grade 7 and 12.

The gazetted guidelines outline strict screening for Covid-19 at schools, and stipulate parents and guardians should start thinking of a plan B for transport if their children are found to show symptoms during screening.

The department also stated that anybody diagnosed with Covid-19 and who has been isolated could only go back to the office or school after testing negative.

Metcalfe added that while Motshekga was able to provide frameworks on school reopening, nobody at national departmental level would be sure that a school was ready or not.

"The regulations published by the department of education on Friday are absolutely clear that only those schools that have complied will be allowed to open. My understanding is, therefore, that all schools will remain closed until all of the health and safety and social distancing measures are in place," she said.

Metcalfe emphasised that there was, however, now an urgency for local communities to work together to support schools and ensure that the necessary measures were in place for them to be ready for reopening.

Motshekga was expected to brief the nation on the state of readiness at Sunrise View Secondary School in Rustenburg, North West, on Monday.   

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