With the coronavirus outbreak in South Africa and the government’s swift action to try to contain its spread, President Ramaphosa announced that schools in South Africa would close two days (March 18) ahead of the Easter holidays and remained closed up to today. Ordinarily, schools were supposed to be closed from March 20 and reopen on March 31.
Since the pre-Easter early school closures, the country went into a level 5 hard lockdown where all businesses closed and people were required to stay at home and only leave to seek medical care or essentials.
Then the country moved into out of the harder lockdown regulations and into a lower level 4 lockdown situation where some sectors have gone back to work and the intentions for reopening of schools have now been discussed and tabled.
The road towards the opening of schools has, however, been long winded and unclear.
What has happened so far on the road to reopening schools?
1. Department tables schools reopening proposal (final plan to come)
The department’s director-general, Mathanzima Mweli, gave a presentation to parliament’s portfolio committee on basic education on the department’s possible plan to reopen schools. The drafted plan had proposed the term to start with the going-back-to-school of teachers on May 4. Grades 7 and 12 were expected to be back at school first. The plan was met with a lot of criticism from parents and unions saying it was too early.
2. Department postpones press briefing for the presentation of final schools reopening plan
After the briefing to the portfolio committee, the department announced it would share its final plan in a press briefing scheduled on 27 April, but the department later announced that briefing has been postponed with no announcement of the new date and time for the press briefing.
3. Department shares schools reopening plan
In a press briefing on April 30, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga announced schools would open in a phased-in approach manner. Motshekga, in her speech, stated the following :
- Office-based staff to return to work on 4 May 2020. This is in line with the directive from the department of public service and administration.
- School Management Teams should return to work on 11 May 2020. This had been done to ensure that the School Management Teams prepare the schools prior to the return of learners.
- Teachers return to work on 18 May.
- Grade 12 and 7 learners go back to school on 1 June 2020.
4. Teachers and parents voice concerns on department’s final schools reopening plan
Teachers voiced concerns that the dates for starting to go back were too early, questioning whether they would have enough time to prepare accordingly.
An anonymous teacher told Parenty: “I think the department needs to do a proper planning process, including the readiness of the school facilities and learners need to get proper orientation in terms of using their masks and washing their hands properly. There should also be proper screening done before we enter the school premises. All of us as staff, together with the learners.”