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News24.com | Education dept now says pupils will only go back on 8 June, Western Cape disagrees

  • After consultations with various education stakeholders, the Department of Basic Education says pupils will start returning to school from 8 June, but the Western Cape says it is going ahead. 
  • Boarding schools that have already received pupils have been urged to continue orientating them on Covid-19 safety precautions at schools. 
  • The first week of June will be used to orientate teachers and do final checks on the readiness of each school.

The Department of Basic Education says, after consulting with the Council of Education Ministers (CEM) on Saturday, it has decided that schools will reopen on 1 June, but that pupils will only return from 8 June. 

In a statement released on Sunday evening, shortly after a postponement of a much anticipated briefing on the state of readiness of schools, the department said the CEM was concerned that, in some provinces, personal protective equipment (PPEs) for pupils had not been received and that some schools had not been made ready for their return. 

“CEM took informed decisions to have schools continue to reopen on 1 June 2020, but with School Management Teams, Teachers and Non-Teaching Staff only arriving to prepare for the arrival of learners,” the department said in the statement. 

It cautioned that provincial and district officials should ensure that health, safety, and social distancing requirements were strictly adhered to when teachers arrived. 

The department said the week should be used for orientation and training of teachers and for final touches on making each school ready.

State of uncertainty

“The date on which all learners have to report back to school, is the 08 June 2020,” it said. 

“We have, however, received reports that indicate that some learners in boarding schools have already arrived. We urge the schools to continue with orientation of the learners in terms of the health and safety procedures that should be in place.” 

Meanwhile, Western Cape Education MEC Debbie Schäfer said schools in the province would be opening on Monday. 

“We have been engaged in discussions at a national level over the weekend, and were awaiting the minister’s announcement that was scheduled for 18:00 this evening.

“Given that this has now been postponed until tomorrow, we can no longer allow our schools to hover in a state of uncertainty,” she said.

The provincial department said it had worked hard to ensure that it was ready for the arrival of pupils on Monday, adding that principals and staff had also worked tirelessly to get all health and safety requirements in place.

It added that it would use the week to orientate pupils on the Covid-19 safety and learning environment. 

“There are also outstanding issues that need to be finalised over the coming week – including confirming a position on home schooling options – but these will not prevent the majority of our Grade 7s and 12s from returning,” Schäfer said.

Schools were expected to reopen from Monday, after being closed for more that 60 days.

‘Our position still stands’

Earlier, News24 reported that education unions had met with the education minister on Saturday in a bid to convince her that, despite her announcement that the phased reopening of schools would commence on Monday, the system was simply not ready to do so in its current state.

“Our position still stands. We met with the department yesterday [Saturday] and presented this to the minister [Angie Motshekga], which she said she would consult [on] and get back to us,” South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) spokesperson Nomusa Cembi told News24 on Sunday morning.

The Professional Educators’ Union (PEU), which was also in the meeting on Saturday, confirmed to News24 that their position remained the same.

“We were part of the meeting, the position is the same – the sector is not ready. The department has not delivered on its mandate. In terms of the non-negotiables, they have not complied. If the sector opens, it must open at once, not according to individual schools.

“The minister has to inform us before going public. We will see today,” PEU president Johannes Motona said, referring to Motshekga’s planned (and postponed) address to the nation at 18:00 on Sunday evening.

National Association of School Governing Bodies’ general secretary Matakanye Matakanya told the SABC on Sunday that they had also been part of the meeting calling for a halt to the reopening of schools.

This comes after national school governing bodies (Federation of School Governing Bodies of South Africa, National Association of School Governing Bodies and the Governing Body Foundation) met with education trade unions Sadtu, Naptosa, SAQU, PEU and NATU on Thursday to consider and discuss the state of readiness for the reopening of schools.

“Information gained from members of the unions and associations on the ground guided the discussions and led to a unanimous position that the education system, as matters currently stand, is not ready for the reopening of schools,” a joint statement read.

While both the SGBs and unions acknowledged the right to basic education, they did not believe it to was in the best interests of children to return to schools when there was uncertainty about health and safety.

‘System is not completely ready’

In summary, the teacher unions and national governing body associations have flagged some of the following concerns:

  • Provincial departments have not been able to deliver personal protective equipment (PPEs) for all returning staff and pupils;
  • Many schools have not been cleaned or disinfected as per the direction of the Departments of Employment and Labour;
  • The amended curriculum has not yet been provided to schools;
  • The essential training of teachers about how to operate in the Covid-19 environment is seriously lacking;
  • Comorbidity issues have not been dealt with properly.

Taking all of the above into consideration, the unions and governing body associations believe it would be a mistake to reopen schools on Monday.

“It is believed that the minister should retract her announcement in this regard and delay any further announcement to give the system more time to ready itself for a common reopening, because if not, we will see a haphazard reopening situation,” the joint statement reads.

The SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) on Thursday also issued a statement, saying it had conducted its own independent monitoring of school readiness in all nine provinces. It said it had written to Motshekga and recommended that she reconsider 1 June as the date for the return of Grade 7 and Grade 12 pupils to school.

“Feedback from our provincial offices is that many schools have not achieved the required readiness to receive learners. Most observations from our provincial offices highlight the shortage or inadequacy of water and sanitation as well as personal protective equipment.

“Some even reported that the necessary training was still outstanding. Other observations made during monitoring in provinces are that the levels of readiness for many rural schools are significantly low,” the SAHRC said in its statement.

According to a report by the Sunday Times, during the “marathon” Saturday night meeting, which was also attended by MECs, Motshekga acknowledged that “the system is not completely ready”.

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