Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Pretoria: Plans are underway to welcome back more pupils to schools across the country as the Basic Education Department continues with its phased reopening of schools amid COVID-19.

In just five days, pupils in Grades R, 1, 2, 3, 6, 10 and 11 are set to return to school on 6 July 2020.

Earlier this month, Grade 7 and 12 pupils returned to the classroom as government implemented the phased reopening of the country and the economy.

Briefing Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Basic Education, the department’s Director-General Mathanzima Mweli said while the department is prepared to welcome back 52% of pupils next week, it will consider the trend of infections.

“Although we are saying 52% of learners, we are not fixed to bringing the 52%. We have heard that community infections are flaring up, we discussed this last night with unions, and we are saying our plan is extremely flexible.

“We are not going to push for 52% to come if we can see that there is danger. The community infections that are happening might spill over to schools. We are very cautious of that,” he said.

Since the reopening of schools on 8 June, the Education Department noted that 523 pupils, 1 169 staff members and 775 schools have been affected by COVID-19.

Mathanzima said, while the department is prepared to welcome pupils, it is also mindful about the capacity of the health sector.

“We not only look at our capacity to run the system but also have to be mindful about the capacity of the health sector to deal with the flaring up of infections in communities because those schools are located in communities, so we are alive to that reality.”

Rotational school attendance

In an effort to maintain social distancing at schools, Mweli presented the department’s plan to amend the timetable to ensure that only 50% of the total learner enrolment is present at a given moment.

Under the plan, the department suggests that learners either attend school on a bi-weekly basis, rotate to be present ever second day or all learners attend on a particular day.

Committee welcomes reopening plans, commits to monitor schools

The Portfolio Committee on Basic Education has welcomed the Basic Education Department’s state of readiness and plans as more learners are scheduled to return to school under level 3 of the COVID-19 enforced lockdown.

The Department of Basic Education briefed the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education, and the Select Committee on Education and Technology, Sport, Arts and Culture on the state of readiness to welcome more learners and educators to schools on Tuesday.

The department told the committee that more grades are expected to go back to school during the next phase on between 1 and 6 July 2020. This follows the first phase, which started with the return to school of Grades 7 and 12 in early June.

The department said the plan of reopening schools involves different models, which will make sure that only 50% of learners are present to allow social distancing in class.

The different models, the department said, include a situation where learners attend bi-weekly (week 1 – 50% of learners and week 2 – the other learners who did not attend in week 1), or learners rotating to be present at school every second day.

“The other model is where two groups of learners of up to 50% attend on a platoon basis (one group in the morning, and another in the afternoon),” the department told the committee.

Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education, Bongiwe Mbinqo-Gigaba, said the committee welcomed the department’s readiness and commitment to ensure that all health and safety protocols are observed, as well as its commitment to provide personal protective equipment (PPE).

However, Mbinqo-Gigaba said the committee members are concerned about the number of teachers and learners who have tested positive for Coronavirus, as well as teachers who are over the age of 60 years, who could be at risk due to underlying comorbidities.

“Committee members will, as part of their Parliamentary oversight responsibilities, continue to monitor the situation at schools to make sure that all the necessary regulations are adhered to,” Mbinqo-Gigaba said.