The reduced 0.5-metre social distance rule at schools has not yet been formalised as a proposal for immediate implementation, the Department of Basic Education (DBE) has clarified.
DBE spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said: “It was debated in the public prematurely as though it was a formal proposal when in fact it was not. It was a consideration for implementation some time in the future when approved through the appropriate forums. It was not immediate implementation. It is not urgent either.”
Education Minister Angie Motshekga said on July 31 that she intended to approach the Cabinet to have the social distance rule at schools further reduced from the current 1 metre to 0.5m.
In response to this, teacher unions said they had not been consulted and would not be backing the minister on this unless there was scientific evidence to show that the health and safety of teachers and children would not be compromised.
Mhlanga responded: “We noted the concerns of the unions and appreciate it because it gives the department a sense of understanding of what society would like to see. Active involvement in education matters, especially under a pandemic, is welcome,” he said.
According to Mhlanga, unions meet with department representatives every Saturday afternoon.
UCT School of Public Health and Family Medicine’s Emeritus Professor David Coetzee said there is clear evidence that closeness of contact is important in the transmission of Covid-19.
“Whether 1m or 0.5m is appropriate is difficult to stay. I think that education is critically important and we should ensure the maximum capacity to educate as many pupils possible.
His colleague, a lecturer at the UCT School of Education, Xolisa Guzula, said children attending urban, township and rural schools that are continuing with rotational classes will continue to suffer, have their education quality weakened and fall behind many ex-Model C schools that have had full-time attendance since March this year.
“The government should have by now provided mobile classes and used the school buildings that have been closed because there are fewer children. We need more classes and teachers to teach the children, and no reduction in social distancing, because in the schools able to maintain social distancing, Covid-19 cases are on the rise and we hear of schools closing down because of these rising cases,” Guzula.
He suggested the introduction of study blocks and assessment, and the rigorous use of television and radio to teach the children not attending school during the study blocks. This can be done with more political will.