All eyes will be on Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga on Tuesday from 18:00, as she is expected to provide clarity on the way forward for schools across South Africa.
South African school governing bodies are calling on the Department of Basic Education to allow them to decide whether they can safely reopen schools during the Covid-19 crisis.
The National Teachers Union (NAT) and Professional Educators’ Union (PEU) have, however, slammed the proposal as “irresponsible” as it would exacerbate the education inequalities in the country.
Experts are also calling on the department to release the data it is using to decide which and when schools will reopen.
Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga will provide an update on the reopening of schools on Tuesday at 18:00, where she is expected to reveal a framework for teaching activities to resume from 1 June.
The minister and her department were locked in meetings with trade unions, and school governing bodies on Tuesday afternoon where finer details of the framework were discussed ahead of her address.
Speaking to News24 ahead of the meeting, Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools (Fedsas) CEO Paul Colditz said they have long called for school governing bodies to decide when and how schools can reopen.
Fedsas, which represent over 2 100 school governing bodies, believes the department should only provide a framework on how schools should reopen safely without “too many prescriptions”, Colditz said.
“School governing bodies know their communities the best, they understand what will work and what will not, and they are therefore in the best position to know when to reopen their schools,” he said.
Colditz said options for reopening schools to limit the spread of Covid-19 include:
While the department is proposing that grade 7s and 12s return to school first to complete the academic year, Colditz said it is more important for foundation phase pupils in grade one to return to school first to avoid them missing out on essential learning.
Colditz said he wants the department to release the particular medical and scientific data it is using to decide on the reopening of schools.
He believes the department should also release a comprehensive communications plan to ensure parents are in a position to make informed choices about sending their pupils back to school.
Professional Educators’ Union (PEU) president Johannes Motona said South Africa is a unitary state, and that the decision for school calendar dates lies directly with the department of education.
“If they reopen schools at different dates, what are they going to do next year or the year thereafter when certain schools are weeks and months ahead,” Motona asked.
He said while the department’s survey shows that only the Western Cape and Gauteng are currently ready to reopen schools, they are hearing from the ground that these schools are also waiting on personal protective equipment (PPE’s) and sanitation equipment.
National Teachers’ Union (NAT) president Allen Thompson said they opposed any proposal that would see schools reopening on different dates across the country as it would “exacerbate education inequalities” on the country.
Instead, he wants to hear plans on how the department is going to use its resources to ensure that all schools can reopen at the same stage.
“What are they going to do with pupils that are only going to return to school later? What are they going to do when matrics have to write exams – are they going to write on different dates then as well,” Thompson asked News24.
Thompson said all teachers will be required to train with cloth masks and visors from June, and that all pupils will wear cloth masks, and hopes the department announces “touch up” training to help teachers educate pupils in these new circumstances.
He said he also hopes to hear plans how pupils who rely on reading lips, or have hearing difficulties, will be helped when everyone has to wear masks.
Former Gauteng education MEC and education expert Mary Metcalfe said Motshekga should be very clear on the science being used to decide on the interventions being taken to protect the lives of teachers and pupils.
She said whatever plan the department releases, it has to be done in a manner that has the buy-in from everyone – from unions to school governing bodies to pupils and parents – otherwise it will likely fail.