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

The Basic Education Department is gearing up to get the school calendar going again, with a proposed plan in place to have grades seven and 12 heading back to the classroom first on Wednesday 6 May, followed by other grades in phases.


JOHANNESBURG - Over 12,400 000 school children and 407,001 teachers across 23,076 public schools in South Africa have been home-bound since the start of the coronavirus lockdown in late March.

Now, the Basic Education Department is gearing up to get the school calendar going again, with a proposed plan in place to have grades seven and 12 head back to the classroom on Wednesday, 6 May and other grades to follow in phases.

This is how it intends to do that and what it plans to put in place to ensure minimal spread of the coronavirus among children and educators.


The following are guidelines on social distancing:

  • Physical distances to be kept in classrooms, with not more than two pupils sharing a desk.

  • No hugging or handshaking and direct contact must be avoided.

  • Cloth masks to be worn by pupils and teachers at all times.

  • No mass public events. All sports matches, choral practices and festivals, eisteddfods are not permitted.

  • Extra classes should be arranged in small groups that maintain social distancing.


  • Sanitise classroom prior to start of the school day.

  • Sanitise hands upon entering of classroom.

  • Limit movement of pupils between classes.

  • No clustering of desks in classrooms.


  • Work with the Department of Transport to ensure that buses are sanitised prior to start of trips.

  • Sanitise hands upon entering busses.

  • Manage distance between pupils in bus.

  • Compulsory wearing of masks throughout the school day, starting before boarding transport.


  • Because water and sanitation are a key pillar of prevention against the contraction of coronavirus, this is a challenge to 3,475 schools in need of emergency water supplies, the bulk of these being in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape.

  • To remedy this, the Department of Water and Sanitation has an emergency water supply programme to install water tanks at critical supply points, then deliver portable water by water trucks to these tanks. The Education Department will assist in this delivery.

  • A basic and essential hygiene and sanitation package has been developed, and provinces are procuring items. These include cleaning and disinfection materials, PPE, sanitisers, handwashing soap, gloves, cloth masks and thermometers.


The department has developed guidelines for schools on maintaining hygiene to provide recommendations on the proper cleaning and use of personal protective equipment based on risk exposure including:

  • Basic principles of infection prevention and control.

  • Risk reduction methods for schools, classrooms, toilets/bathrooms, offices, and food preparation areas.

  • Daily duties of cleaners.

  • How to use personal protective equipment.


The screening of pupils and educators will be done at the re-opening of schools, starting with grades seven and 12.
Pupils or staff members with high temperature will be considered for isolation and testing.


All pupils, educators and support staff will receive orientation and training at the start of the school reopening, commencing with grades seven and 12.

The orientation and training programme/package will comprise the following:

  • A training manual.

  • Video clips and an information booklet.

  • Posters and appropriate signage to direct teachers, pupils and non-teaching staff on what to do.

  • The orientation programme will be linked to a communication strategy and shared through, television and radio broadcasts, WhatsApp and other social media platforms.


An increase in social, mental, psychological and emotional difficulties amongst pupils, educators and officials are anticipated due to losses and trauma experienced during the pandemic.

Guidance to provinces, districts and schools include:

  • Development of context-specific provincial plans.

  • All schools to have a list of contact details for available free counselling, to be redistributed via the various communication platforms.

  • Utilise all available capacity including in special schools.

  • Provinces to leverage the capacity of social partners and HEIs offering social work and psychology to expand services to schools.

  • Ensure the functionality of school-based and district-based support teams.


  • The original school calendar year started on 15 January 2020 and would have ended on 4 December 2020. The amended school calendar will end on 9 December 2020.

  • The school calendar for 2020 will be adjusted to have schools open on 4 May 2020 for teachers and 6 May for learners.

  • The grades will be phased in, starting with grades seven and 12. The lost school days will be recovered by shortening the June holidays to five days and the September holidays to a long weekend in order to make up these days.

  • The fourth term will also be lengthened to close on 9 December 2020 for pupils and 11 December 2020 for teachers.

Here’s what the new calendar may look like:


  • Grade 12s will be expected to write the set fully-fledged examinations, based on covering the entire curriculum and other grades will be given a reworked curriculum and assessed on 80%.

  • The May/June exams for the National Senior Certificate Grade 12 will be combined with the October/November Exams and rescheduled for November/December 2020.

  • Marking of examination scripts will run up to end of December 2020.

  • Moderation, standardisation and the release of the results will be moved to mid/end of January 2021.

  • Grade 12s will still write preparatory examinations in September, while the November/December examination timetable will have to be amended accordingly.