Mixed reaction to delay in reopening schools
The decision of the Department of Basic Education (DBE) to postpone the reopening of all schools by two weeks received a mixed reaction on Friday.
This after Deputy Minister Reginah Mhaule announced that school management teams would report for duty on January 25, teachers on February 1 and pupils on February 15.
Briefing the media earlier, Mhaule said they consulted the education stakeholders and that all were united in supporting a delay in the opening of schools.
She also said private schools that have reopened already would need to postpone their reopening to a later date.
"This is done to provide relief to the health system, which is already struggling to cope with the current demands."
Mhaule also said they would hold meetings with provinces next week to check the state of readiness.
"We will once again go back to our stakeholders for consultation on the details of the opening of schools for the 2021 school year amid the pandemic," she said.
Sadtu said it welcomed the decision to delay the reopening of schools and allow pupils to return on February 15, depending on the coronavirus’ behaviour during the two-week delay.
The union said it did not agree with the call for teachers and school management teams to report for duty from January 25, claiming the unions were not consulted.
"We wonder what informed this decision because teachers are as vulnerable to the pandemic as the learners. This shows the Department of Basic Education (DBE) has no regard for the lives of the workers, who are the ones who are infected and overwhelming the hospitals."
The teacher union also said the department was spitting on the well intended goal of the National Coronavirus Command Council’s decision to save lives.
"The DBE thinks the learners are taught by robots and this obsession that educators are hired to work, and should therefore go to work when the officials have been working from
home for the whole of last year, is unacceptable."
DA MP Baxolile Nodada said his party did not support a delay in reopening schools.
"We strongly believe that the health and safety of learners and teachers should be prioritised. However, we do not believe delaying the start of the academic year will achieve this," Nodada said.
He said the department should have used the time during the school holiday wisely and worked meticulously to equip schools with proper Covid-19 resources to keep learners and teachers safe.
"The DA is concerned about the impact that this delay could have on the psychological and academic development of learners. The year was already set to start quite late and a further delay could cost learners dearly, with no plan to recover the lost time in learning."
The Freedom Front Plus's Wynand Boshoff said the delayed re-opening could very well turn this into a second crisis year.
"The sustained lockdown may necessitate some changes to education that should have been made a long time ago already," Boshoff said.
He also said schools that were able to open safely, should be allowed to do so.
"The contrary should only apply when schools have proven that they are unable to prevent the spread of the virus. It will greatly reduce the burden of trying to make up for lost time later in the year," Boshoff added.
Elleck Nchabeleng, chairperson of the select committee on education, technology, sports, arts and culture, has welcomed the delaying of the reopening of schools by two weeks.
Nchabeleng called on the department to take its cue from the National Coronavirus Command Council on the reopening of schools.
"Government's voice is the only credible one for guidance on matters of education and Covid-19," he said.
"Other voices on the matter have the potential to sow confusion and indecisiveness as they are not based on expert advice but populism. The disruptive effect of Covid-19 on schools demands that we listen to credible and knowledgeable voices."
Nchabeleng also said the department needed to build on experiences from last year.
"We have experience on this matter. Let us use that to better prepare and implement plans. The department should facilitate online learning where it is possible to do so. Class rotation systems should be enhanced and schools need to ensure that sufficient teaching occurs."
He also urged the department to ensure that all required materials like PPEs, sanitisers and adequate water provisions were available in every school ahead of reopening and that all safety measures are adhered to at all times.