The Department of Basic Education has clarified that only senior officials in the education sector will return to work on 4 May to prepare for the eventual reopening of schools.
There had been uproar and anxiety among parents after the department’s presentation to Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Basic Education, where a tentative proposal was made for schools to reopen on 6 May.
On Thursday, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga clarified that the presentation was merely a consultative document, with no concrete decisions taken.
Government has had to revise the original school calendar due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw schools shutdown in a bid to curb the spread of Coronavirus.
The original school year started on 15 January 2020, and would have ended on 4 December 2020.
Motshekga said as of 4 May, senior managers in the education sector will return to work to prepare for the reopening of schools. The senior managers will then be followed by school management teams on 11 May 2020.
Teachers will, based on the proposal, only return to work on 18 May 2020.
Following consultation with stakeholders in the education sector, health experts and the Coronavirus National Command Council on the department’s COVID-19 compliance, Cabinet will make a determination on the date for reopening.
Compliance will be determined based on the sanitation measures, availability of water, provision of masks and ability of social distancing in the schools.
“…Those are the proposed dates. We have to, by law, as soon as there is approval by Cabinet, gazette the school calendar. We are not able to operate with a tentative school calendar but this will be communicated on an ongoing basis,” said the Minister.
Once schools are given the greenlight for compliance, learners will return to the classroom in a phased and staggered approach, from the targeted date of 1 June 2020, starting with the exit stage grades, which are grade 7 and 12.
The return of learners will depend on the preparedness of schools.
Motshekga assured parents that while the department wants to save the academic calendar, the health of learners and the country is paramount.
“Ours is to make sure that as the education sector, we do not contribute to the spread of Coronavirus, and at the same time, we have to protect the academic calendar,” she said.
May/June exams postponed
The Basic Education Department has also taken a decision to postpone the May/June Matric rewrite examinations. The exams were due to be written by more than 350 000, mainly part-time candidates, from 4 May.
“Due to the lockdown, we have not been able to complete our preparations, which include the printing and distribution of question papers, the appointment of invigilators, markers and the general readiness in marking centres,” said the Minister.
The May/June examinations will now be merged with the November examinations. A new time-table for the merged examinations will be communicated urgently, as part of preparing the system for the biggest matric examination ever seen in the country.
“We estimate that one million and one-hundred thousand candidates will sit for the end-of-year matric examinations in this merged format, which includes the Amended Senior Certificate and National Senior Certificate,” said the Minister.
On school fees, the department urged parents of children who attend fee-paying schools to keep paying fees. This follows reports that in some schools, parents did not pay fees, which affected the salaries of SGB-appointed teachers, who are not on government’s payroll but rather receive their income from the school fees.
“It was agreed that provinces would look into the matter to find an amicable and implementable solution. In the meantime, we urge all parents to continue paying school fees. If you cannot pay because your circumstances have changed as a result of the COVID-19, please approach the school, and communicate your challenges with them,” urged Motshekga.
Vandalism of schools during lockdown
Since the start of the lockdown, 962 schools have been vandalised in almost all 75 districts.
The theft, vandalism and burglaries have taken place in all provinces. In almost all the incidents, administration blocks and laboratories have been targeted, and ICT equipment has been stolen.
The Umlazi District in KwaZulu-Natal is the hardest hit, with 41 schools affected.
Provincial departments also reported that foodstuff, meant for the school nutrition programme, has also been stolen.
The Minister condemned the acts of criminality and called for harsh punishment of the culprits.