Johannesburg - Equal Education (EE) and the Equal Education Law Centre (EELC), as well as teachers’ unions, have praised the Department of Basic Education (DBE) for taking a careful, case-by-case approach to managing Covid-19 infections in schools.
EE spokesperson Jay-Dee Cyster said they believed the decision was in line with its risk-adjusted strategy and significantly helped to manage fears around school safety, while protecting learners from the harmful impact of not being at school every day.
“We also celebrate Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga’s announcement that our country’s 582 000 school staff will have the opportunity to be vaccinated by July 8.
“We have, since last year, appealed to the DBE to implement the risk-adjusted strategy so that teaching and learning can continue in schools in parts of the country where community transmission is low or at zero, allowing the same schools to later close when community transmission becomes high.
“Despite the DBE having developed a comprehensive digital system to guide the implementation of this strategy, no province has implemented it yet. Minister Motshekga should now ensure that provinces use this strategy to guide the case-by-case approach to opening and closing of schools.
“Protecting the time that learners are able to spend in school is vital. EE’s learner members have explained how difficult it is when schools are closed - affecting their access to school meals and counselling, limiting their interactions with friends and their ability to learn, and hurting their mental health. For many learners, their schools provide a safe environment,” Cyster said.
EE and the EELC also welcomed the DBE’s latest set of directions, which determine that all primary school learners return to school full time, saying the foundation phase of schooling was critical.
“It is in these grades that basic learning skills must be acquired. All later learning is built on this aptly named stage of schooling.
“Our submission to the DBE on the draft directions - before they were finalised - proposed that provincial education departments prioritise providing extra resources to those schools which are unable to return to full-time timetable.
“We also proposed that the provincial head of department develop a register of those schools that are unable to return to a full-time timetable, to ensure that there is oversight and that schools get the help that they need to move to full-time teaching,” Cyster said.
The Congress of South African Students (Cosas in the Western Cape have called for the close monitoring of the vaccine roll-out of educators and those within the education sector, to commence this week.
Cosas acting Provincial Secretary Mphumzi Giwu urged regional and branch leaders to closely observe the roll-out and check for any positive cases reported at their schools.
On Saturday, Motshekga told the media that the decision to return foundation phase leaders to full-time schooling was canvassed adequately within the sector, with key stakeholders making inputs in the process.
“We were guided by various studies which looked into the teaching and learning losses already suffered in the sector; the scientific evidence regarding the impact of Covid-19 on younger children; as well as the advice from the medical fraternity.
“Cabinet approved and supported the proposal by the sector, to prepare for the return of traditional time-tabling at primary school level with effect from the first day of the third school term on July 26, 2021.
“We gave ourselves two months to prepare for this mammoth task. At the moment, provinces are at various stages of readiness in terms of the return of all primary school learners to school on a daily basis.
“We are aware that there are many variables that will make this task a success. The DBE is currently holding one-on-one sessions with each provincial education department to check on their state of readiness,” Motshekga said.
The National Professional Teachers Organisation of South Africa’s executive director, Basil Manuel, said his union was in full support of Motshekga, saying her comments had been consistent over a period of time.
“We have received reports from scientists and health experts that it was too early to have a major panic. Motshekga’s decision is sound,” Manuel said.
Sadtu was not available for comment. Earlier, the EFF threatened to close schools if Motshekga implemented the full-time return of foundation phase learners.