Pupils’ lives won’t be put at risk, says dept in school resumption proposal

Parliament’s education committees were on Wednesday briefed on the department’s plan for the phased reopening of schools.

FILE: Basic Education Deputy Minister Reginah Mhaule. Picture: @ReginahMhaul/Twitter

CAPE TOWN - As the Department of Basic Education battles to rescue the 2020 academic year, Deputy Minister Reginah Mhaule said pupils’ lives would not be put at risk.

Parliament’s education committees were on Wednesday briefed on the department’s plan for the phased reopening of schools.

READ: What the new school calendar may look like & how this will affect matric exams

Mhaule told the virtual meeting that in terms of the proposed plan, principals and school management teams were expected to report on Monday, 4 May, with matrics and grade 7 learners set to return on 18 May, followed by the remaining grades in tranches spread over a number of two-week intervals. However, these dates have yet to be confirmed.

“Chair, if maybe I make this correction of the opening of schools. Teachers, principals and school management teams will be reporting on the 4th of May to make the schools to be ready and to receive all the COVID-19 sanitisers etc.”

Parents, teachers and learners are understandably nervous about schools reopening – but Basic Education director general Mathanzima Mweli said international experience showed the influence of schooling on the spread of the coronavirus was “almost insignificant”.

“The medical evidence and the research that has been done by UNESCO and the WHO indicates that the contribution that schooling makes to the spread of the virus is very, very small.”

Mhaule said matriculants and grade 7s could possibly return on 18 May – but the date was yet to be confirmed.

“So, we cannot say, when the situation does not allow for learners to go to school, then we say, ‘no, go to school’.”

Mhaule said in terms of the proposals, teachers would report on 11 May to restructure timetables. Those teachers who would not be needed for teaching would be trained by the Department of Health in how to screen pupils by taking their temperatures.

“Then learners in Grade 12 and 7 will be going to school on the 18th of May, according to this plan for now – subject to its approval. It is being presented now to the command centre, as we are presenting it here to the portfolio committee.”

Mhaule has stressed the plan is not a “one-size fits all” and that schools that were not ready would not be allowed to reopen.

READ: Shorter holidays, no sports: What schooling might look like amid COVID-19

Classes will be limited to 40 pupils with strict rules for social distancing, sanitisation of hands, classrooms and transport in place.

In terms of the draft calendar, matrics will still write trial exams in September after a shorter winter holiday, while the spring break will be limited to a long weekend.

Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga is due to make an announcement on Thursday after she briefed the national coronavirus command council earlier on Wednesday.