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Motshekga: Blanket reopening of schools would have been risky

Grades 7s and matrics are now expected back at school next Monday after the resumption of teaching and learning was postponed on Sunday night.

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga arrives at Sunrise View Secondary School, Rustenburg, on 1 June 2020. Picture: GCIS.

JOHANNESBURG/CAPE TOWN - Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga said that a blanket approach to the reopening of schools in the country would have been risky.

Motshekga has apologised for her last-minute about-turn postponement of the return of grades 7s and matrics to the classroom to next week Monday.

She gave an update on the sector’s state of readiness, saying that some provinces were simply not yet ready to receive pupils.

Minister Motshekga said that following marathon meetings with unions, school governing bodies and other concerned parties over the weekend it was clear that the reopening of schools today should be postponed by at least another week.

"But the decision was that there were other key factors around safety for the coronavirus which were not satisified, like water [issues], therefore it would be risky for a blanket opening of schools."

Motshekga said that while some provinces were ready to resume with teaching and learning, others have been identified as high risk areas.

"When water gave us the report, there were schools that they had not delivered tankers to. Those only arrived today."

It’s understood that only Gauteng and the Western Cape had met most of the health and safety standards to resume with schooling.

Motshekga has given provinces a week to ensure that they are ready for the resumption of the 2020 academic year, with teachers and school management teams expected back at work from today.

The minister on Monday said that she had instructed provinces to use this week to finalise the delivery of personal protective equipment (PPEs) and outstanding provision of water and sanitation to schools.

Motshekga said that three provinces, including Limpopo, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal, had been identified as high-risk areas.

“So, those reports confirm we are not all at the same level. It was for this reason that the CEM came to the decision that the sector required more time to set up its fitness for the reopening of school.”

Meanwhile, Western Cape Premier Alan Winde said that schools in his province were ready to reopen and simply worked in accordance with the regulations.

Winde said the minister's announcement on Sunday night caused confusion as parents had already dropped pupils off at school hostels.

“We came to a decision and everyone was ready to go back to school, so we said let’s go back to school and that was the decision. Then we saw an hour later some press statement coming out. But quite frankly, in the midst of all this crisis, people need to make a decision and we made a decision. Schools are ready, let’s go back to school. Done.”

Winde said that R280 million had been spent on personal protective equipment and cleaning materials and admitted there were some schools that were not ready but emphasised that it was important for pupils to return to school.

"We also can’t lose the year. What also worries me is the poor families and households, they don’t have connectivity or the ability to carry on with homeschooling, they are totally disadvantaged right now and we need to get our young kids back to school so we can continue with our future economy."

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