Covid-19 school closures didn't originate from education facilities – Motshekga
Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga says the rise in coronavirus cases being reported in schools was due to community transmissions and unlikely to have originated from education facilities.
Motshekga was addressing Parliament's National Council of Provinces on Thursday during a virtual briefing. She said schools needed to prepare for the effect community transmissions would have on education facilities.
So far various provinces have announced several school closures due to cases being reported of learners and teachers testing positive for the coronavirus.
Just this week, the Northern Cape announced that six schools had to be closed after pupils and teachers tested positive. The Western Cape said 25 schools were confirmed closed on Wednesday in the Metro East district.
The Eastern Cape confirmed that 204 people had tested positive at a boarding school in the province, while North West had closed 14 schools after teachers and learners tested positive.
Motshekga said the rise in cases showed the link that community transmission has on the sector and cases could not be linked to schools.
“We want to assure this house that the decision to reopen our schools was not taken lightly. We understand the immediate threat that the Covid-19 pandemic poses to our teachers, learners, and the broader society.
"We believe that teachers and learners are members of the various communities that are already battling the pandemic, thus they might have been exposed to the pandemic before the schools reopening,” the minister said.
“In terms of the epidemiology of the Covid-19, it is unlikely that the cases picked up at schools across the country since June (08) reopening originated from our facilities.
"These are classic community transmission cases. Our schools must prepare for the eventuality of the community transmissions becoming the bushfires in our schools. It is not a matter of if but when.”
She said schools were now part of the fight against Covid-19 as pupils were screened and referred for testing.
“We agree with the health ministry that our schools are now the new frontier in a war against the Covid-19 pandemic. We should all consider the reopened schools as the epicentres of surveillance, screening, contact tracing and testing of cases that otherwise would have fallen through the cracks,” she said.
The minister also addressed the issue of additional resources that were needed to fill in supplementary teacher posts at schools. The posts have to be filled as teachers with compromised immune systems could not report for duty.
“For example, the Free State has received 1 887 applications from teachers who have applied to work from home; Mpumalanga has received 237 applications from teachers; the Northern Cape has registered 1 495 teachers with comorbidities,” Motshekga said.
The minister said the impact of Covid-19 on the schooling year would likely be felt for the next two years. The academic curriculum had to be re-adjusted and will now see Grade 12 learners write their final year exams in November and December.
Grade 12 and 7 learners were the only ones currently attending classes. From July 6, grades R, 1, 2, 3, 6, 10, and 11 will return to school.
Motshekga said the department was ready to receive learners.