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Motshekga set to announce date for reopening of schools today

The aim is to reopen the country’s nearly 25,000 public and independent schools gradually, starting with matrics and grade 7s on 18 May and – with two-week intervals – opening up to lower grades over the course of the next three months.

Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga at a media briefing on 16 March 2020 on plans by government to curb the spread of the coronavirus in South Africa. Picture: Sethembiso Zulu/EWN

CAPE TOWN/JOHANNESBURG - Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga is expected to announce the date for a phased-in reopening of schools on Thursday.

The minister is scheduled to brief alongside her Higher Education counterpart, Blade Nzimande, in Pretoria at 4.30pm this afternoon.

Her department initially intended for matrics and grade 7 learners to return to school next Wednesday.

But it emerged during a virtual meeting of Parliament’s education committees on Wednesday that Social cluster ministers had felt this was too early, and an alternative date of 18 May has now been proposed instead.

The aim is to reopen the country’s nearly 25,000 public and independent schools gradually, starting with matrics and grade 7s on 18 May and – with two-week intervals – opening up to lower grades over the course of the next three months.

After briefing the National Coronavirus Command Council yesterday, Minister Angie Motshekga is expected to provide clarity on the dates this afternoon.

Meanwhile, strict health guidelines have been drawn up for when schools start to operate again, including limiting pupils to 40 in a class, compulsory mask-wearing and the sanitisation of hands, classrooms and scholar transport.

Sport, cultural and extra-mural activities won’t be allowed and no more than two pupils should share a desk, while movement between classes should also be limited.

Deputy Minister Reginah Mhaule said that the plan was "not cast in stone".

"It’s a plan but it’s not a one size fits all and we know that situations differ from province to province."

MPs have questioned whether the plan is realistic. Nearly 3,500 schools have no water but Mhaule said they’re being provided with water tanks.

'SETTING OURSELVES UP FOR FAILURE'

Some education experts and activists are worried that the Basic Education Department’s tentative plan to reopen schools from next month may be too ambitious.

Unions in the education sector are unhappy with the Basic Education Department’s proposal to reopen schools from next month and some experts are not surprised.

Education expert Mary Metcalfe said that it may take time to implement all of the measures proposed by the department.

"The complexity of getting all of the schools in the country ready, for me, suggests that we may need more time than the ambitious time frame presented by the Basic Education Department in Parliament yesterday."

While education activist Papama Mnqandi said that he was not convinced that the department would be ready to resume classes next month, especially in disadvantaged parts of the country.

"It will amount to us setting ourselves up for failure."