No ‘matric camps’: Western Cape education dept lays out its plan for reopening schools

Western Cape MEC for Education Debbie Schafer. Picture: Armand Hough / African News Agency (ANA)

The basic education department has decided to trim the curriculum as they believe not all schools can catch up and only essential concepts required for progression to the next grade will be taught.

Western Cape education department (WCED) MEC for education Debbie Schäfer has released the province’s preparations to reopen schools by 1 June.

She said in a statement: “Some people are also struggling to understand that, on the one hand, they have been told to stay home and isolate themselves from society, yet now they are being told to go to schools or send their children to school.”

After the announcement by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga to reopen schools in June, Schäfer said: “The experts have told us that the virus cannot be stopped, only slowed down, and many people will be infected. That is not something we like to hear, but it is the unfortunate reality.

“There are huge disadvantages of closing schools. Parents cannot work, children miss out on important parts of the curriculum which can affect the rest of their schooling and their future earning capacity, and the poor are affected the most.”

These were some the plans that had been confirmed by the WCED for now:

Preparation of school premises

The WCED has placed orders for school safety and hygiene packs, the contents of which would be received at schools by principals over the coming week.

“This includes two masks for every learner and staff member in all public schools, hand sanitiser and liquid soap, cleaning materials and non-contact digital thermometers.

“Principals will also oversee the thorough cleaning of schools in preparation for school staff and learners to arrive. The cleaning materials being delivered to schools include bleach, which is recommended by both South African and international health authorities as the means to be used for disinfecting surfaces,” Schäfer said.

Learners and staff with comorbidities

The department has sent out an interim list of conditions to schools, which present a risk for staff and learners as ‘comorbidities’ such as hypertension, diabetes and TB.

“This list specifies in detail which conditions are regarded by health experts as high risk, and how they are measured.

“Parents whose children have comorbidities will be offered the opportunity to oversee their children’s learning at home with the support of the department over the next few months, or until restrictions are lifted.”

The MEC said a letter would be sent to schools with a form for parents to sign indicating their intention to keep their child at home and to oversee their learning.

Staff with these conditions will need to provide a medical report on the nature and duration of the illness. Appropriate work arrangements and/or potential leave may then be considered.

Screening of staff and learners for Covid-19 symptoms

Schäfer said staff at the schools should conduct screening themselves: “In our view, the most practical solution is for staff at schools to undertake this task. This is going to have to be done every day with every child and staff member.

“If there is only one person to do this, it will take up much-needed time for teaching. In addition, if school staff do it, it minimises the risks of additional people coming on to school premises. It is important that schools devise a method to implement this as quickly as possible, to minimise loss of teaching time.”

Physical distancing

With some grades returning in phases, the department believes there will be enough space for classes to be spread out to maintain the required 1.5m between learners for the first grades returning.

“The difficulty arises when more grades return to school, and space becomes a problem. One of the key tasks of our returning senior management teams is to develop plans to teach in a new way, while the appropriate physical distance is maintained.

“Let us be clear: we have no intention of relaxing the physical distancing requirement at schools.”

Curriculum

The basic education department has decided to trim the curriculum as they believe that not all schools can catch up. Only essential concepts required for progression to the next grade will be taught.

However, this will not apply to matrics, who will proceed as normal, with catch-up plans to be implemented.

Schäfer said: “We do not plan to have ‘matric camps’ in the Western Cape, as per some media reports.”

Transport

The department says they are engaging with their service providers to ensure that they institute the appropriate sanitation measures. The detailed guidelines on these measures will be issued to providers and schools soon.

Learners and staff who will be using public transport must follow the guidelines as set out in the regulations published by the minister of transport.

Schäfer thanked the 95% of principals and 94% of cleaners who had reported for duty this week “to start preparing our schools; together we will get through this.”

(Compiled by Sandisiwe Mbhele)

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