Why the reopening of South African schools was postponed

Department of Basic Education (DBE) Minister Angie Motshekga has apologised for delaying her address to the public, as well as her late postponement of the return to schools of students from 1 June until 8 June.

Motshekga said that following the presentation of three reports which showed that schools were not ready to reopen, she spent Sunday consulting with key stakeholders.

“All three reports received converged on the fact that a substantial number of schools would not be ready for the reopening today,” said Motshekga.

“It was for this reason that the sector requires more time to up its state of readiness.”

Motshekga said she has visited several schools today, who said that while some schools were ready, others clearly were not.

“We were not all at the same level,” Motshekga said.

A meeting will be held on Thursday to assess the state of readiness, and the DBE hopes that schools will return on 8 June.

Why schools aren’t ready

Godwin Khosa of the National Education Collaboration (NEC) Trust presented the findings of a consortium of organisations that was used to inform the DBE’s decision to postpone the return of grade 7 and 12 students.

“We established a snapshot as of 27 May 2020 with the knowledge that more work was still going to be done,” said Khosa.

“We made an overarching opinion that it was highly unlikely that most schools would be ready to open on 1 June.”

The consortium sought to answer the following questions:

  • Are schools ready to receive SMTs, teachers, and Grade 7 and 12 learners?
  • What is the level of readiness at the various levels of the system – provincial, district level, and school level?
  • What are the blockages, if any?
  • Health and safety risks in schools?

“We recognise that readiness is not absolute, but relative,” added Khosa.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) was identified as a major issue in terms of the country’s readiness to return to schools.

“The PPE pointed to a chequered state of readiness across the country,” said Khosa.

“Most provinces had distributed for School Management Teams (SMTs), some for teachers, but there were issues with learner PPE.”

Khosa said that many of the issues regarding PPE were on the supplier side.

“These included shortages of stock – particularly in the cloth mask market – while some of the appointed suppliers did not have adequate stock themselves or the ability to produce them,” said Khosa.

“Some suppliers misrepresented their ability to supply this PPE,” Khosa added.

Khosa said that based on its findings, and what information had been made available, it had determined the following:

  • Gauteng and the Western Cape were likely to have most schools ready by Monday
  • Free State, Northern Cape, North West, and Eastern Cape were at medium risk – meaning the likelihood of most schools being ready was “limited”
  • Limpopo, Mpumalanga, and KwaZulu-Natal were flagged as high risk because their distribution was far behind.

Major findings by the consortium were as follows:

  • Progress had been made to meet the readiness requirements
  • An increasing number of schools are meeting the requirements for readiness
  • They thought there would be many schools that would not be ready by the end of Sunday 31 May to receive learners in the schools; the greater proportion of which were schools in the seven provinces considered medium or high risk.

Receiving the necessities

Motshekga said that teachers who have received their PPEs must report to work from today, while teaching and learning will hopefully begin from 8 June.

“We have agreed with provinces that we must finalise all outstanding deliveries of PPEs and water tanks,” said Motshekga.

“We must ensure that all schools comply with the minimum necessities.”

“Provinces are now putting the shoulder to the wheel to ensure that all that needs to be delivered, is delivered in the week of 1 June,” she said.

“We need to work extremely hard to comply in order to prevent infections,” she added.

“Schools must have sufficient sanitizers, facilities for washing of hands with soap, and provide at least two face masks for teachers and learners.”

Teboho Joala of Rand Water said that three of the nine provinces have satisfactorily dealt with the issue of supplying water to schools.

Schools in the other still await the delivery of water tanks to deal with water shortages.

Returning to school is critical

Motshekga said that while the postponement of students returning to schools to 8 June was necessary, it will not be acceptable to continue postponing the return date.

“Poor learners will be highly disadvantaged if we keep on postponing,” said Motshekga.

This is because those from wealthier backgrounds have been able to keep up with their studies to a degree through online learning.

She added that permits will be issued to officials and teachers to allow for movement between provinces for work purposes.

She also said that parents should not deprive their children of a right to education.

Motshekga said that those who wish to keep their children at home must homeschool them.

They must apply to do this and familiarise themselves with the homeschooling policies.

Now read: South African schools – New opening date

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Why the reopening of South African schools was postponed