Back to School Concerns: MPs have reservations on readiness for phased return

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Cape Town – The government’s plan to reopen schools next week, which will see teachers returning on May 4 and learners two days later, now hangs in the balance.

This comes as the Cabinet’s social cluster has apparently expressed its reservations regarding the Department of Basic Education’s readiness to resume the school calender in phases.

“We can’t say we are presenting a cast-in-stone plan. Yesterday, after presenting to the social cluster, they indicated that the date of May 6 is not realistic and we need to change it,” said Deputy Minister Reginah Mhaule.

“In the presentation that I have now, that date is changed,” she added.

Mhaule did not state what the new proposed date was. She made the statement as MPs raised concerns about the readiness of schools to reopen at a joint meeting of parliamentary committees on education.

This was as Minister Angie Motshekga made a presentation to the Cabinet. Mhaule said they did not have to risk lives but needed to protect the calendar year.

“We should not compromise lives. Life is more important than the academic year. We understand that as the department,” she said.

Earlier, director-general Mathanzima Mweli said the plan was that grades would be phased in, starting with Grades 7 and 12 returning on May 6.

The other grades would begin classes in staggered phases between the late May and July.

Grades 11 and 6 would start classes on May 20, Grades 10 and 5 on June 3, Grades 9 and 4 on June 17, Grades 8 and 3 on July 1, Grades 2 and 1 on July 8 and Grade R on July 15.

Mweli indicated that the proposed dates were likely to be changed.

He also said the lost school days would be recovered by shortening the June holidays to five days and the September holiday to a long weekend to make up for these days.

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

He maintained that there were guidelines on social distance for the reopening of schools, including:

Physical distancing in classes, where not more than two learners would share a desk, no hugging, handshaking and direct contact to be avoided.

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

Extra classes should be arranged in small groups that maintain social distancing.

No mass public events.

He also said there would be sanitising prior to the start of school day, sanitising hands on entering classrooms, limiting movement of learners between classrooms and no clustering of desks.

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 learners in a bus, among other measures.

“The point we want to emphasise here is that the government will be responsible for learner transport provided by the government.

“Transport provided by parents will have to see that Covid-19 regulations are adhered to,” he added.

There were about 3500 schools identified with critical water supply challenges and water tanks were being ordered, Mweli said.

The department had also committed to ensuring that hygiene was maintained and necessary equipment was procured.

Mweli said they would provide two sets of cloth masks to learners and there would also be thermometers to take the temperature of learners and teachers every day.

“Learners and staff with raised temperatures will then be considered for isolation and testing,” Mweli added.

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

All nine provinces have placed orders for the equipment.

Mweli, however, said that when schools reopened there would be rules for their operation and these were non-negotiable.

These included basic sanitation and hygiene, cleaners, screeners, additional teaching posts to deal with overcrowding.

There was also a plan for provision of mobile classrooms to deal with overcrowding.

However, MPs asked about readiness of schools to reopen and matters such as overcrowding linked to social distancing to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

By Mayibongwe Maqhina

Credit: www.iol.co.za

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