Education Department wants schools in COVID-19 hotspots to stay closed

South African schools in the areas worst affected by COVID-19 will stay shut next month if the Department of Basic Education (DBE) has its way.

This is according to a report by the Sunday Times, which said that Education Minister Angie Motshekga will unveil this proposal on Monday when she briefs the media on schools reopening.

According to the report, the DBE want schools in the following municipalities to be treated as if they are in lockdown level 5:

  • Cape Town
  • Johannesburg
  • Buffalo City
  • Ekurhuleni
  • eThekwini
  • Mangaung
  • Nelson Mandela Bay

According to the Sunday Times, this would affect over 3.7 million students and over 130,000 teachers in over 5,000 schools. This proposal has also reportedly been discussed with private school associations.

The Sunday Times reported that as part of the latest proposal, matric pupils in the aforementioned areas would possibly be “accommodated in grade 12 special camps.”

In response to this suggestion, the national president of the South African Principals’ Association David de Korte said that teaching these matrics in camps would be “quite a challenge.”

NAPTOSA executive director Basil Manuel was more direct in his criticism of the idea.

“We accept that this may be a reality that more than 5,000 schools may remain closed because opening them would simply just not make sense. However, I would seriously caution against holding matric camps. Where would you put the children?” said Manuel.

Issues getting ready

According to the Sunday Times, circulars indicate that in certain provinces, schools have also been told to buy personal protective equipment (PPEs) using money meant for learning materials.

It also claimed that in some instances, parents have been asked to help with the cleaning of schools.

Additionally, while Motshekga has placed the blame for delays in PPE acquisitions on suppliers, a document seen by MyBroadband suggests otherwise.

A letter sent to Eastern Cape schools by the Eastern Cape Department of Education (ECDOE) said it had originally been told to place procurement orders with the National Treasury.

However, it was informed on 6 May that all PPE which was procured by the National Treasury would be re-prioritised to the Department of Health. This has resulted in it having to source its own PPEs.

Government is not doing its part

Teachers’ unions have been critical of the DBE throughout the return-to-school planning process, and have claimed that it is not being straightforward with them.

“The manner in which the department is conducting itself on the consultations is causing a trust deficit with the unions and this must be addressed,” said five teachers’ unions in a joint statement.

They said the DBE had not addressed its concerns regarding how substitute teachers would be appointed to replace those who have medical conditions.

The unions said the DBE had also committed to addressing their concerns regarding how comorbidities would be treated. However, at the meeting they were expecting to be briefed, no such information was provided.

At the same meeting, the DBE was expected to provide information regarding how teachers would be appointed both to replace those with comorbidities, and to enable social distancing.

The DBE then delayed Motshekga’s speech addressing the reopening of schools on the day it was meant to take place.

Now read: The extended lockdown will destroy South Africa – Wits Professor

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Education Department wants schools in COVID-19 hotspots to stay closed