Parliament – If things went according to the wishes of the Department of Basic Education, schools should reopen next week, with teachers returning on May 4 and pupils two days later, on May 6.

Schools in the country have been closed since mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic. The department was supposed to host a media briefing on Monday, but that has now been delayed with plans to update the public later this week.

Briefing a joint meeting of parliamentary committees on Wednesday, DBE’s director-general Mathanzima Mweli, said the plan was that grades would be phased in, starting with grades 7 and 12 returning to school next Wednesday.

The other grades would start classes in staggered phases between May and July.

“The lost school days will be recovered by shortening the June holidays to five days and September holiday to a long weekend in order to make up for these days.

“The fourth term will also be lengthened to close on 9 December 2020 for learners and 11 December 2020 for teachers,” Mweli said.

Deputy Minister Reginah Mhaule said the plan was drawn to bring pupils and teachers back to school.

“We need to protect lives and academic year,” Mhaule said.

She also said the department has held meetings with the nine Education MECs, five teacher unions, association of school governing bodies and civil society bodies.

Mhaule said the plan was presented to the Cabinet social needs cluster on Tuesday and Minister Angie Motshekga was making a presentation to the Cabinet today.

She, however, said the social needs cluster has questioned the schools’ readiness for reopening next week.

Mhaule stated that the date for re-opening has to change but principals are returning to look at things that would be needed when they ultimately reopened.

“We don’t have to risk life. We need to protect the academic year.

“We should not compromise lives. Life is more important than the academic year. We understand that at the department.”

According to Mweli, there were set guidelines for the re-opening of schools, including:

* Physical distancing in classes, including not more than two pupils sharing a desk.

* There is also no hugging, handshaking and direct contact allowed.

* Cloth masks would be worn by pupils and teachers at all times.

He also said there would be sanitizing prior to the start of school day; sanitizing hands on entering classrooms; limiting movement of pupils between classrooms and no clustering of desks in classrooms.

Mweli stated that they would work with the Department of Transport to ensure buses for the scholar transport were sanitised, that hands were sanitised on entering a bus and manage distance between pupils in a bus, among other measures.

“We will work with the Department of Transport to ensure enforcement,” he said about private transport ferrying pupils.

He said wearing masks would be compulsory throughout the day, starting before boarding transport.

Two sets of masks would be provided to pupils in schools classified as falling in quintile one up to three.

There were about 3 500 schools identified with critical water supply challenges and water tanks were being ordered, Mweli said.

He also said there would be screening of the temperature of pupils and teachers daily.

“Learners and staff with raised temperature will then be considered for isolation and testing.”


By Mayibongwe Maqhina