The big question of when and how the 2020 academic school year will resume has been partially answered by Basic Education Minister, Angie Motshekga’s announcement last week. 

Regarding the ‘when’, she said schools would reopen in phases, starting on 1 June with the Grade 7 and Grade 12 classes. However, the details of the ‘how’ remain to be seen, as the minister also stressed that the reopening of schools will be subject to the implementation of strict hygiene and social distancing protocols. According to Motshekga, the final call will be made in conjunction with the National Command Council.

Until such time, teachers, learners and their parents in the Overstrand are trying their utmost to ensure that schooling in some form continues from home.

Hermanus High School Principal, Greg Hassenkamp said that during the lockdown the school has opted to implement distance learning. “This has required supplying all our pupils with the necessary resources and assistance to continue with the school’s educational programme despite the fact that the pupils are at home.  

“One of the obstacles experienced in the roll-out of the distance learning programme is the lack of data and wi-fi for a number of our learners. We would like to thank three companies who have come to our aid and made it possible for us to supply all our Grade 9 to 12 learners with data. ValueChainSolutions, FinGlobal and Mack’s Petroleum are making a huge difference in the lives of our learners, and the value of their contribution and continued support for the school will never be able to be measured,” Hassenkamp said.

In addition, Food Lover’s Hermanus and an anonymous donor are also sponsoring data for the 2020 matriculants and teachers at Qhayiya Secondary School in Zwelihle. 

According to government, the following is proposed for the adjusted school calendar for 2020: 

  • Office-based staff to return to work on 4 May. 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 to ensure that all preparations at the schools are done prior to the return of learners;
  • Teachers return to work on 18 May to prepare for the remaining curriculum; and
  • Grade 12 and Grade 7 learners go back to school on 1 June.

Before announcing the proposed school calendar, Motshekga stressed that risk assessments in each province, district and school would inform decisions to reopen institutions. 

She reiterated that the Department of Basic Education’s (DBE) primary concern was the health and safety of all pupils and, as such, staunch social distancing measures would be implemented in schools. 

Safety measures contained in the plans include: 

  • Physical distances in classrooms must be maintained, with not more than 2 learners sharing a desk;
  • Screening of learners and educators will be done at the reopening of schools;
  • Temperature checks will be administered, and learners or staff members who present with raised temperatures will be considered for isolation and testing;
  • No hugging or handshaking;
  • Direct contact must be avoided;
  • Cloth masks to be worn by learners and teachers at all times;
  • No mass public events. All sports matches, choral practices and festivals, eisteddfods are not permitted;
  • Extra classes should be arranged in small groups that maintain social distancing;
  • Classrooms must be sanitised prior to the start of every school day;
  • Learners must sanitise their hands on entering classrooms;
  • The movement of learners must be limited between classes; and
  • No clustering of desks in classrooms.
  • In conjunction with the Department of Transport, all buses transporting learners must be  sanitised prior to the start of all trips; 
  • Everybody to sanitise hands on entering of buses;
  • The distance between learners in the buses must be managed; and
  • The wearing of masks throughout the school day, starting before boarding transport, is compulsory.

During her address, Motshekga noted that, because of the disruptive nature of lockdown, exams initially scheduled to take place in May and June have been postponed until November 2020. The exams were due to be written by more than 350 000, mainly part-time candidates.

The minister said: “Due to the lockdown, we have not been able to complete our preparations, which include the printing and distribution of questions papers, the appointment of invigilators, markers, and the general readiness of marking centres.

“The examinations will, therefore, be merged with the November examinations. We estimate that 1,1 million candidates will sit for the end-of-year matric examinations in this merged format, which includes the Amended Senior Certificate and National Senior Certificate. A new timetable for the merged examinations will be communicated urgently, as part of preparing the system for the biggest matric examination ever seen in the country.”

According to Motshekga, the department is acutely aware of the virus’ disruptive, and potentially dangerous, impact on the nation’s education system. “We serve more than 13 million learners and the anxiety that has resulted from the major problems we experienced is highly understandable. Our guiding principle is ensuring safety, protecting lives and lowering the infection rate,” she said.

Motshekga added that, following the announcement of the national lockdown, the Council of Education Ministers agreed to focus on a catch-up programme, and double their efforts towards the promotion of learning and teaching in homes; and towards the preparation of a catch-up programme for when the children go back to school.

“The department has used 123 radio stations, and six different television channels to assist learners. The initiative was put in place as an intervention to bring curriculum lessons to households across the country to assist learners as schools remain closed.”

Motshekga urged parents to continue paying school fees as this has a direct impact on the ability of the schools to pay the salaries of teachers appointed by the governing bodies.

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