Experts and unions have expressed doubt that the newest return date of 8 June for Grade 7 and 12 learners provides enough time for schools across the country to be ready.
This follows government pushing the return date forward from 1 June to 8 June the day before schools were set to open.
Department of Basic Education (DBE) Minister Angie Motshekga hopes that the extra week will be enough to ensure schools are ready to receive students on 8 June.
Education expert Mary Metcalfe told MyBroadband that she doubts schools will be ready by 8 June.
She said that there are two initial steps that are required in terms of readiness.
“The first is to have the material necessities to manage the infection in every school – which includes water, sanitiser, and masks,” said Metcalfe.
“The second step is to have the systems in place to actually institutionalise the routines required for the effective use of those resources.”
Metcalfe does not believe that these two steps will be in place by 8 June – but said she would be delighted if they are.
However, Metcalfe warned that these are not the only obstacles schools will need to overcome.
“Once we have the necessary materials and routines for managing the virus, the larger task is managing time-tabling on a 50% capacity.”
“We still need to get the systems in place to identify which teachers are given leave because of comorbidities,” she added.
Metcalfe said that these significant obstacles mean the DBE needs to proceed slower and added that the DBE, the teachers’ unions and the school governing bodies all need to be speaking on the same platform to inspire confidence in the public.
Schools will not be prepared to reopen on 8 June – SADTU
“We believe 8 June will not give schools sufficient time to prepare,” said teachers’ union SADTU.
It also urged the government to do its best to ensure that all schools are fully compliant before schools open.
“We are aware there are some schools that are more than prepared to open but we feel it would be unfair to have a staggered approach to the opening as this will further increase the gap of inequality in the education system,” it said.
This position is also taken in a joint statement published by five teachers’ unions – including SADTU.
“We advise all schools, even those that might be ready to re-open, having received all the necessary materials for teachers and learners, not to re-open for learners until the non-negotiables have been delivered to all schools and to inform their learners accordingly,” the unions said.
The unions, whose statement was published on 31 May, also claimed that the 8 June date was not mentioned in the meeting held between the DBE, Teachers’ Unions, and Governing Body Associations prior to Motshekga’s announcement.
“The Minister acknowledged that the system was not ready and that as a collective we would meet on Thursday, 11th June for further assessment,” said the unions.
“The astounding confusion caused by the statement must be condemned because the Department of Basic Education is obsessed with dates and ignoring the evidence of provincial readiness.”
“The lack of appreciation for evidence can only be characterized as irresponsible and negligent,” the unions said.
Rural schools far behind
Another of the statement’s contributors, the SAOU, said that it welcomed the decision by Minister Motshekga to postpone the reopening of schools.
However, it is concerned that not all provinces will operate on the same readiness levels as the schools in the Western Cape and Gauteng when schools reopen.
“The feedback that we get from schools in Limpopo, KZN, North West, and Mpumalanga is that they were not even 50% ready,” said the SAOU.
“The so-called rural schools are far behind in this regard. A lot of these schools don’t even have running water available.”
“These schools did not have the benefits of online teaching platforms and to procure their own PPE’s,” the SAOU added.
Despite these worries, it hopes that the additional few days before 8 June will provide the DBE and schools with enough time to prepare schools for the return of Grade 7 and 12 learners.