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11 key points from Motshekga’s briefing on reopening of schools

The first group of pupils to return to school on 1 June are grades 7s and 12s, while other grades would follow in due course.

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga at a briefing on 19 May 2020 in Pretoria explains the department's plans to reopen schools amid the coronavirus pandemic. Picture: GCIS

JOHANNESBURG - Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga has announced that the National Command Council (NCC) and Cabinet have approved the phased reopening of schools on 1 June.

The first group of pupils to return to school are grades 7s and 12s, while other grades would follow in due course.

All teachers are expected to report to school on 25 May.

“We are confident that the reopening of schools across provinces will happen as outlined in the protocol that has been developed,” Motshekga said at a media briefing on Tuesday evening in Pretoria.

“The reports we got are showing that preparations have been taking place and good progress has been made. All indications are that the preconditions for the reopening of schools will be met, obviously with the premium being on saving lives,” the minister added.

Schools in the country closed more than two months ago in a bid to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic when the country went on lockdown.

Motshekga said the Department of Basic Education (DBE) relied on health experts and experience from other countries in informing its plans for the resumption of the 2020 academic year. She said they also received many representations from parents and organisations.

According to the minister, the Council of Education Ministers (CEM) met on Monday to consider the latest reports on the state of readiness for the reopening of schools and noted the progress that was made.

Here’s a summary of the 11 key points from the minister’s briefing:

1. REOPENING OF SCHOOLS

The minister said the reopening of schools would also take place in metropolitan areas. She said every school should adhere and observe the health and safety protocols that would be put in place.

Motshekga said pupils and teachers who were in other provinces would also be able to return to their residences, and arrangements were in place.

“All learners, educators, and support staff will receive orientation and training at the start of the school reopening commencing with Grade 7 and 12,” she said.

2. DELIVERY OF COVID-19 ESSENTIALS

The delivery of the COVID-19 essentials such as sanitisers, masks, water and sanitation were being done ahead of the phased reopening of schools on 1 June.

“The items regarded as essential are; sanitisers, masks, water and sanitation, and of course the schools will be cleaned and most are being cleaned as we speak,” Motshekga said.

3. REVISED SCHOOL CALENDAR

The revised school calendar will be gazetted soon, Motshekga said. It would indicate the opening and closing dates and the breaks in between.

“We will work with provinces to make sure that no school is left behind,” she said.

4. DEALING WITH CO-MORBIDITIES

The minister said in terms of school staff and pupils with co-morbidities, the DBE was working with health professionals who had “profiled the sector and it will be issuing guidelines on how to manage them”.

Motshekga also said the department was working with the Department of Public Service and Administration.

“We also urge parents to work closely with schools to ensure that learners with pre-existing illness are also assisted. Schools will work with parents to obtain the information which once again needs to be treated with the utmost care. This matter is of paramount importance and we appeal for cooperation in this regard,” she said.

5. WATER PROVISION AT SCHOOLS

Motshekga said the department would ensure that no schools went without water.

“DBE entered into an Implementation Protocol agreement with the Department of Human Settlements, Water & Sanitation and Rand Water. We will ensure that no schools goes without water. Just-in-time delivery will be made,” she said.

6. LOST TIME DUE TO COVID-19

The minister said the DBE had come up with several measures to help the sector recovere some of the lost time due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The amount of time available in a school day will determine the duration of the period by subject. We will be using innovative methods about how we meet health, safety, social or physical distancing requirements. The trimmed curriculum will be sent to school for planning purposes, it is being worked on a continuous basis,” she said.

On the day to day running of schools, Motshekga said they expected the role of the school principal and school management team (SMT) to be affirmed in assuming the responsibility.

“They are expected to put measures in place for equitable allocation of periods or time for teachers to cover the scope of the curriculum in saving the academic year.

"Schools must be aware that all curriculum enrichment programmes will be put on hold until further notice. We want to focus on the core business of basic education which is curriculum implementation,” she said.

7. NO SCHOOL SPORTS ACTIVITIES

Motshekga said school sports would not be permitted as they would increase the chances of infection and undermine government’s efforts to contain the coronavirus.

“When class is dismissed, learners must go home. We urge parents to work with us on this matter,” she said.

8. SCHOOL NUTRITION PROGRAMME

The National School Nutrition Programme had been adjusted for the 2020 feeding calendar in accordance with the phased-in approach of schooling and the curriculum recovery plan, the minister said.

“The Nutrition Programme will be reopened for all learners when grades 12 and 7 are reintroduced to schools on 1 June 2020. All food handlers will be supplied with the required personal protective equipment including gloves, aprons and cloth masks. These have already been procured by provinces as part of a basic health and hygiene package,” Motshekga said.

She said the school nutrition budget would be utilised according to the revised school calendar and where feasible, school meals would also be extended to catch-up programmes for the grade 12s.

9. SCHOLAR TRANSPORT

The minister announced that the DBE was working with the Department of Transport to ensure that safety protocols were maintained.

Theses protocols included:

• Everybody to sanitise hands upon entering the school transport.

• Managing distance between children in the bus.

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

10. SPECIAL SCHOOLS

Motshekga said they were also “mindful” of the needs of learners with disabilities and the DBE was working with provinces to ensure that special schools were adequately provided for in all the plans of the department.

“During consultation with social partners it became clear that we need a different approach when it comes to special schools. We are working with organisations who are advising us on the best way forward regarding the phased-approach of the special schools.

“Our planning and procurement has considered the needs of learners with disabilities and those in special schools. Provinces have put in place plans that will ensure that no child is compromised,” she said.

11. ECDs

The minister announced that no decision had been made on the reopening of Early Childhood Development Centres (ECDs). She said the regulations for level 3 lockdown were being finalised and a solution would be announced soon.

“We understand that Early Childhood Development Centres also provide the necessary caring and feeding services for children from families. Due and careful consideration will be made to ensure that we maintain the delicate balance between allowing ECDs to operate, alongside the safety and health of the children and their caregivers. We are working together with the Department of Social Development on this matter as it straddles both departments at the moment,” she said.

For official information about COVID-19 from the Department of Health, please click here.