Education Minister Angie Motshekga has confirmed in a Sunday Times column that the Department of Basic Education (DBE) plans to reopen schools for more grades “soon.”
“As the basic education sector, we are COVID-19 battle-hardened and ready,” said Motshekga.
“We understand the contestation from some quarters as this is a new terrain of struggle, but we shouldn’t allow panic to guide public policy.”
She added that research shows the longer children from poorer backgrounds are not at school, the less likely they are to return at all.
“Furthermore, the current wave of COVID-19 cases reported in schools since June 8 is classic community transmissions; as yet they are not originating from our facilities,” she said.
However, Motshekga cautioned that community transmissions will eventually become “bushfires” within schools, adding that “it is not a matter of if, but when.”
New school calendar
Earlier this month the DBE published the amended school calendar for 2020.
The four school terms for 2020 are gazetted as follows:
- Term 1: 15 January – 18 March
- Term 2: 8 June – 7 August
- Term 3: 12 August – 23 September
- Term 4: 5 October – 15 December
The new calendar has been constructed so that only one day of holiday will be taken between terms 2 and 3. This is because 8 and 9 August fall on a weekend, while Monday 10 August is a public holiday.
Additionally, no more public holidays will fall on a school day for the rest of the year.
In a government gazette posted on 1 June, return dates for all grades were provided as follows:
- Grade 7, 12 – 1 June 2020
- Grade 1, 2, 3, 6, 10, 11 – 6 July 2020
- Grade 4, 5, 8, 9 – 3 August 2020
However, the gazette adds that schools may deviate from these dates depending on their capabilities.
Delay to initial reopening
Schools first reopened to Grade 7 and 12 learners on 8 June.
This was a week later than the 1 June date that was originally provided by the DBE.
The night before 1 June, the Government Communications and Information System (GCIS) released a statement confirming that schools would not be reopening to learners on the original date.
“CEM (Council of Education Ministers) took informed decisions to have schools to continue to reopen on 1 June 2020, but with School Management Teams, Teachers and Non-Teaching Staff only arriving to prepare for the arrival of learners,” said the GCIS.
“The date on which Grade 7 and 12 learners have to report back to school, is 8 June 2020.”
This was due to findings that schools were not yet ready to reopen to learners at the time.
A week later, ahead of the 8 June return date, DBE director-general Mathanzima Hubert Mweli said that 97.6% of South African schools’ facilities were ready to accept Grade 7 and 12 learners.
Despite this, Motshekga highlighted that in all case, schools must not reopen until they are fully prepared to do so.
“The golden rule is that there will be no school that will resume if not ready to do so,” said Motshekga.