While it remains unclear what lies ahead once pupils start returning to schools in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, some schools in Gauteng have already hit the ground running.
Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga announced on Tuesday night grades 7 and 12 would be returning from 1 June, as the department grapples to save the academic year after it was forced to close its doors in March when the pandemic hit the country.
While Motshekga said teachers would start returning from 25 May, some principals and school management teams (SMTs) have already returned to school.
The minister also added in the briefing the delivery of personal protective equipment (PPE) was underway at schools in various provinces.
During Tuesday’s briefing, the department said provinces would provide updates on plans in preparation for teaching and learning to resume in a safe and clean environment to avoid the spread of the virus.
News24 caught up with the principals of three Gauteng schools to discuss their plans ahead of the reopening on 1 June.
Benoni High School
Benoni High School had already received PPEs and would start implementing its plans on Monday when teachers and other staff came back, its headmaster, Eugene Rooyakkers, told News24.
The school said 286 matriculants were expected to return, with Rooyakkers adding it would split pupils up to avoid overcrowding.
He said the school would utilise other classrooms, including the hall, to ensure there was physical distancing in classes.
Rooyakkers added while he was not concerned about the capacity of teachers, he was concerned about whether anyone would return who had underlying diseases and who was not feeling well and fit.
Some of the plans are that heads of departments divide classes by subjects.
“No matter what we do, to do it 100% right I don’t believe exists for anybody, that’s the reality. But in the same breath, you are going to please some people and you’re not going to please everybody.
“It’s the young folks we got to worry about because they are anxious and want to get on with their lives. What happens in 2021? They want equal opportunity to be able to write exams and go on with their lives – and live their dreams.
“We have to make sure we do it the best possible way – and not just at our school, the whole country and for all children, Grade 1s and everybody,” Rooyakkers said.
Unity Secondary School in Benoni, which has 347 matric pupils, had also received its PPEs, principal Wandile James Makhubu told News24.
Makhubu said he and his deputy had gone to the school to conduct an analysis of how they would separate the pupils and adhere to Covid-19 regulations.
“We will need more than 14 classrooms so we can have a 1 to 20 ratio. But my classrooms are big because I use multipurpose rooms.”
He added the restructuring of the timetable for Grade 12 was already under way.
Makhubu said although they needed a few more teachers, they would be using those who taught lower grades, such as 10 and 11, because he believed “all teachers are qualified to teach”.
“We will get those teachers who are slightly experienced to assist in Grade 12 because a teacher cannot teach eight classrooms in a day.
“Can you imagine, maybe there are 170 [pupils] who are doing history and there’s only one teacher so if you separate them into 20 then the teacher will not cope alone. So we will need to re-organise ourselves so that we can utilise the same teachers in lower grades.”
Makhubu said at this stage the school would be ready to welcome Grade 12 pupils but it would be challenging once other grades were phased in.
He added the school was lucky it was already in the process of building four additional classrooms and had received a mobile one from the department.
Teachers with comorbidities are pillars of the school
Makhubu said he was concerned most of the teachers at his schools were elderly.
“The majority of my teachers are slightly old. I may be one of the oldest in the school. Those are the people who are experienced and are the pillars of the school.
“We don’t know what will happen if the department says they must stay home. These are the people that were making us to be one of the best in Gauteng. Myself being a maths teacher, I am over 60 years,” he added.
General Smuts High School
Meanwhile, General Smuts High School in Vereeniging is still waiting for its PPEs from the department, but it has moved to purchasing them on its own so that preparations can get under way.
The school of specialisation has 240 matric pupils and uses eight classes to teach them. But to adhere to the regulations, it would now be using 12. It has also reworked its timetable and will be working on purchasing additional textbooks for pupils.
“We are also going to change the system of having learners moving to different classrooms to see teachers and it will now be the teachers moving to them because the less movement the better,” deputy principal Tlale Mokone said.
Mokone added the school had decided to purchase the PPEs while it waited for those from the department. The delivery was expected to be sometime in the week, he said.
“On Friday, I said because we are going to ask the cleaners to come and clean the school this week, while we are waiting for the delivery, we purchased enough [masks, gloves, sanitiser] for the SMT that will be coming this Friday.
“As the cleaners came today we checked their temperatures, gave them gloves, masks and sanitisers. We do have enough stuff for the school to run.”
Mokone added: “Most of the things the minister said yesterday were actually in line with what we have decided as a school. Last week, I said to the principal and the other deputy that we must do our bit as a school to try and secure the staff and learners. We have put a number of contingency plans to ensure everybody is safe.
“Over and above everything else, we have been promised by the department, we have taken an initiative as the school to ensure teachers and learners are safe.”
Once schools reopen, the school plans to have at least six people screening pupils at the entrance.
About 20 matric pupils lived at the hostel and would also be attended to accordingly to ensure they were safe, he said.
The Gauteng Department of Education was expected to outline its broader plans for the province in a media briefing on Thursday, spokesperson Steve Mabona said.