FULL SPEECH: Angie Motshekga on SA schools' readiness for start of academic year

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga on Sunday briefed media on the state of readiness for public schools, which were expected to officially reopen on Monday following a two-week delay.

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga. Picture: GCIS.

JOHANNESBURG - Deputy Minister, Dr Reginah Mhaule
Director-General, Mr Mathanzima Mweli and his team
Members of the Media and everybody watching at home.
Good afternoon!

It has been three weeks, since we started phasing-in the reopening of schools for the year 2021. School Management Teams returned on 25 January; and teachers have been back at work for two weeks now, since 01 February.

The latest Amended School Calendar for 2021 as published by the Department, confirms that tomorrow – Monday, February 15, learners are going back to school. At the outset, we must emphasise that the health and safety of teachers, staff and learners remains at the top of the priority list.

Our Consolidated Directions, issued in terms of the Regulations, and published in terms of the Disaster Management Act of 2002, focusing on the reopening of schools and measures to address, prevent and combat the spread of COVID-19, were gazetted on 12 February 2021. In the Consolidate Directions, we emphasise the critical importance of vigilance and strict adherence to the health and safety protocols, in order to save lives. The Directions have also been distributed to schools for implementation.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the DBE has been monitoring the state of provinces on a regular basis, to ensure that provinces have systems in place to cope under the pandemic; and to provide support, where support is needed; to ensure smooth opening and running of schools.

We will continue to maintain the delicate balance between health and safety in schools on the one hand, while on the other, we deal with the curriculum gaps, identified during the 2020 academic year. Senior managers in the Sector, under the leadership of the Director-General, have been working very hard to strengthen the already existing plans for 2021.

The 2021 School Readiness Monitoring, through one-on-one meetings with our Provincial Education Departments, and the National School Readiness Survey (Volume 2 of 2021), jointly released by the national unions (SADTU, NAPTOSA, SAOU, NATU and PEU) on 09 February 2021, have focused on the provincial and school state of readiness in the provinces. The survey will be used to plug on the identified gaps. We remain committed in meeting and consulting with stakeholders in guiding and leading the sector as we navigate our way through these difficult times.
The readiness monitoring has focused on the following areas;

⦁ Health and safety;
⦁ School admissions;
⦁ Learner drop-out;
⦁ Provision of teachers;
⦁ Provision of LTSMs;
⦁ Curriculum management and assessment;
⦁ Roll-out of Information, Communication and Technologies (ICTs);
⦁ National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP);
⦁ Infrastructure delivery, with a special focus on water, sanitation;
⦁ Learner transport for qualifying learners; as well as
⦁ School safety; and psychosocial support.

The Director-General will present a full state of readiness report.

ON THE BASIC EDUCATION EMPLOYMENT INITIATIVE (BEEI)

The Sector has welcomed close to 290 000 young people, who have been employed on contract as Education Assistants and General School Assistants. These young people have been employed in our schools, as the Sector’s response to the President Ramaphosa’s Fiscal Stimulus Package, announced in April 2020. We call this initiative, the Basic Education Employment Initiative (BEEI).

The BEEI seeks to address COVID-19 related academic disruptions, as well as providing assistance in dealing with lingering systemic challenges. Another key component if the BEEI, is to provide support to workers negatively and directly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

A portion of the R7 billion allocated for the BEEI, is targeted at saving SGB-funded posts in public schools and Government subsidised independent schools. We are working hard to ensure that the delayed payments of some of these young people, are addressed immediately.

The impact of the coronavirus continues to be felt in the Basic Education Sector. The latest available figures indicate that 1 169 educators have passed away, as a direct result of COVID-19. This year alone, up to Friday, 12 February, the number of deceased educators stands at 159; while for non-teaching staff we have recorded 63 deaths. This is really heart-breaking, and we convey our sincere condolences to the affected families.

May I request that we observe a moment of silence, to honour the dearly departed.

ON SCHOOL ADMISSIONS

The demand for space in schools, especially in Grades 1 and 8, remains a challenge for the Sector. All provinces, are experiencing a high demand in particular areas.

Provinces have made good progress in placements, but there are still 16 117 learners awaiting spaces in schools. The Council of Education Ministers (CEM) met yesterday; and the matter of school admission, was identified as critical, because the system cannot afford to see any learners being left behind. It was agreed that provinces would work with speed to place all the learners in the next week. CEM appeals to parents and guardians to cooperate with officials at the District level, in order to accelerate the placement process.

ON THE REVISED SCHOOL ADMISSIONS POLICY

The Department has gazetted a draft revised School Admissions Policy for public comment. The draft Policy focuses on documents required for the admission of a learner; admission of learners, who are not South African citizens; undocumented learners; learners with special education needs; and school zoning, amongst other issues. The Policy also focuses on the right and obligations of parents. These are critical issues; hence, we are imploring the public to submit their comments to the Department by 12 March 2021.

ON SCHOOL FEES

One of the questions frequently asked, is around the payment of school fees during the COVID 19 pandemic. It is important to clarify this matter. There are two types of public schools in the country, the fee-paying schools and no-fee paying schools. Fee-paying schools are allowed to charge school fees, as determined at the Annual General Meeting of the SGB. Therefore, the payment of school fees in such schools, is mandatory.

In terms of the South African Schools Act (SASA) of 1996, SGBs of a fee-paying schools have the authority to enforce parents to pay school fees through legal means. The liability of parents is determined through an affordability formula, which can be used to determine whether a parent can be exempted partially or fully from paying school fees.

There are other phenomena that parents have raised as serious concerns. There are schools that are reported to be charging parents registration deposits. Others are charging parents exorbitant amounts to pay staff the section 42 bonuses. This, school do, despite of the moratorium placed on the Public Service salary bill. We must advise schools to avoid such temptations; as the first is illegal; and second is completely unreasonable, especially as it is done and enforced under the devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

UPDATE ON 2020 MATRIC EXAMINATIONS

You will recall, for the first time in the history of the National Senior Certificate examinations in our country, it was for the first time that we administered combined examinations; that we administered the 2020 examinations involving more than a million candidates. We must say, that the exams were administered well, barring a few glitches there and there.

I must report that we are on schedule for the release of the 2020 NSC exam results on 22 February 2021; and candidates should get their statements of results, on 23 February 2021 from their schools.

While still on the matter of examinations we will today be sharing the report on the progress of the investigations into the into exam irregularities.

Advocate Luvuyo Bono, the chairperson of the National Examinations Irregularities Committee and Hugh Amoore, the chair of the National Investigations Task Team, will make a presentation in a short while. The Director-General will introduce them just now.

STAKEHOLDER ENGAGEMENT

The Department has been meeting key stakeholders on a regular basis, to discuss a variety of matters affecting the Sector. The regular meetings with national school governing body associations, principals’ associations, teacher unions, associations for learners with special needs, and formations for independent schools, have been valuable.

The deliberations and inputs received from these engagements, have assisted the Sector to navigate the complex circumstances, brought on us by COVID-19 pandemic. Education is a societal matter that requires regular collaboration. We will strengthen our partnerships with our social partners and other partners of the Department, to ensure that the Sector as a whole, benefits.

CONCLUSION

Let me conclude by thanking social partners, business and the community in general for supporting the sector as it continues to operate under difficult conditions. These COVID-19 circumstances require the entire nation to support its children and indeed cooperate and support schools on a sustainable basis.

Let us continue to adhere to the health and safety protocols – wear masks appropriately; sanitise and wash your hand with water and soap; keep social distancing; and avoid large gatherings. I urge every one of us, to play our part in keeping our communities safe and healthy.

I thank you

Ends.

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