Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng/African News Agency (ANA)
Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng/African News Agency (ANA)

LIVE: Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga briefs SA on plans to re-open schools

By IOL Time of article published May 19, 2020

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Johannesburg - After weeks of behind the scenes contestation and several briefings about the phased re-opening of schools from June, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga is now briefing the South African public in a live briefing from Pretoria. 

At the end of April, the Department of Basic Education released its draft document, inwhich they were calling for Grades 7 and 12 to return to school from June. The department has been adamant that it could not afford to lose the 2020 academic year.

Other Grades would slowly return to school later.

Motshekga was expected to address the country on Monday, but the briefing was cancelled. The minister has been under pressure to come up with a strategy of re-opening schooling to save the academic year and to ensure that learners and teachers will be safe from possible infection from the coronavirus.

But leading experts have warned that it was impossible that children would not be infected and that they should be allowed to go back to school. 

In a webinar last week, Professor Shabir Madhi, one of the medical experts on Health Minister Zweli Mkhize’s advisory committee, called on pupils to be sent back to school sooner rather than later. 

Madhi, a vaccinologist and an infectious disease specialist, believes that the Covid-19 lockdown that was instituted by South Africa since late March has done the best it could.

He said children should be sent back to school, but stressed that schools should take the necessary precautions to prevent the spread of the virus for children at school. 

He said however, that it was inevitable that children would infect one another as the virus would be with us in the country for at least the next two years until a vaccine was developed. 

“Adults are more likely to be infecting adults, and adults of the same age group are more likely to (infect each other) and because obviously they are in the same social circles. 

“Adults are the ones infecting children, there is hardly any documentation of children being the ones infecting adults in the Netherlands,” he said. 

The professor said it was time to send children back to school as there was enough evidence which showed that children were not the vectors for Covid-19.

“We are not protecting children by not sending them back to school,” he stressed.

And teacher unions have been indifferent to the idea of schools re-opening, tabling seven demands earlier this week: 

  1.  A realistic plan for social distancing.
  2.  Repairing of all schools vandalised during the lockdown.
  3.  A schools nutrition plan to be prepared.
  4.  Ensuring that the new curriculum is ready and delivered to teachers before schools re-open.
  5.  Ensure that substitute teachers are employed and ready to report for duty.
  6.  The provision of water and sanitation.
  7. Schools and offices to be disinfected. 
Meanwhile, Motshekga's draft plan which would have seen a phased approach to resuming learning. The plan encompassed seeing some department of education officials returning to workspaces from May 17 to help receive sanitary equipment and also personal protective equipment (PPE) for learners and teachers.

Following that teachers were expected to also return to work from the end of May to prepare for learners. The expected re-opening of schooling was expected to start from June 1. This would see only a few grades return, such as grade 7 and 12 learners. The other grades would be phased in overtime.

The big challenge facing the minister was pressure from unions, which include Sadtu, who have repeatedly stated that schools were not ready to re-open. They also opposed any form of talk about some of its members returning to work without the measures pertaining to sanitation and PPEs were sorted.

Motshekga had previously stressed that the dates proposed were drafts and that re-opening was subject to readiness.

Her address this evening follows consultations with unions, provincial governments MECs and heads of department.

* For the latest on the Covid-19 outbreak, visit IOL's special #Coronavirus page.

** If you think you have been exposed to the Covid-19 virus, please call the 24-hour hotline on 0800 029 999 or visit sacoronavirus.co.za 

IOL

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