The Department of Basic Education has recently announced that reopening of schools will be delayed by two weeks. This comes after the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic hit South Africa and resulted in over a million infection cases and more than 35 000 deaths.
Public schools in the country were scheduled to reopen on January 27 while most private schools had already kick-started their 2021 academic year.
“Due to the impact of the coronavirus, the Council of Education in conjunction with the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) and Cabinet have taken the decision to delay the reopening of schools to February 15, in order to provide relief to the healthcare system,” said the Deputy Minister of Basic Education, Regina Mhaule.
Mhaule said school management teams will return to schools on the 25th of January while teachers are set to return on the 1st of February 1. Mhaule also added that new dates for private schools will vary according to their calendars. She said the department felt the impact of the virus during matric exam markings, with some markers succumbing to the virus, while others withdrew from marking.
Recently, education stakeholders and the DBE met with the National Command Council to discuss the issue of schools reopening. It was reported that the command council was concerned about the pressure on health-care facilities, given the rapid increase arising from the second wave of Covid-19, with Gauteng, Limpopo and other provinces entering their peak, hence it recommended to the department to consider delaying the reopening of schools until the 15th of February.
According to DBE spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga, more than 200 teachers had died since the schools closed on the 15th of December, last year.
The National Alliance of Independent Schools Associations (Naisa) said while they understood the urgency and need to save the lives of their pupils and staff, they also needed to consider the impact a delay in reopening independent schools could have on keeping teachers employed.
Naisa believed Cabinet should allow independent schools to continue without a delay in the reopening of schools, while the National Professional Teachers Organisation of South Africa (Naptosa) said it would support any proposal to delay the re-opening until the peak infection period has passed.
“In discussions with the DBE on this matter NAPTOSA, therefore, supported a delay of not less than 14 days,” a Naptosa statement said.
On the other hand, the Independent Schools’ Association of Southern Africa (ISASA) announced its members should consider delaying the commencement of the academic year.
ISASA executive director Lebogang Montjane said they were confident in the ability of their members to mitigate the risk of transmission of Covid-19. Montjane said this would be through meticulous planning and compliance with all known Covid-related health and safety protocols.