There’s been a mixed bag of reactions to the Basic Education’s confirmation that grade 7 and 12 learners will be returning to school come June 1.

Equal Education has raised concern over the state of readiness of rural and township schools for the phased reopening of schools.

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga says school senior management teams have received materials like sanitisers and masks ahead of the phased reopening. Materials are also being stored at warehouses.

The Minister says the Department will be gazetting a revised school calendar before the end of May.

NGOs and teacher unions have called for the Department to ensure that learners are not at risk when they return to school.

“We have concerns or are cautious around the just-in-time delivery proposition that’s been put on the table by the Department of Basic Education. We’re worried that the Department of Basic Education or provincial departments especially the rural provinces may not be ready, in fact, to meet the standard operating procedures or protocols that have been put on the table by the Department of Basic Education,” says Equal Education’s Noncedo Madubedube.

Senior Researcher at the Stellenbosch University Dr Nic Spaull has welcomed the Minister’s address.

“What the Minister showed tonight was leadership in this difficult time. She said she’s listened to experts; listened to evidence. I found it to be humble, honest, reasonable and scientific. I think what she was saying was that we can’t hold up the whole country for a small number of schools that are not ready.”

Dr Spaull says research has shown that children rarely die from COVID-19.

“Children will catch this disease at school; some teachers will catch this disease and it’s not a matter of if they will but when. Not all but they are going to get infected and if we accept that now and we put precautions in place and that it’s a very small percentage of children that will get it.”

Motheo Brodie from Section 27 acknowledges that the Minister was faced with difficult choices.

He says they will consult further with the department.

Brodie, however, says they are concerned that most schools they have liaised with, especially in Limpopo, are not ready to reopen.

“There’s a few other things that the Minister didn’t speak to and that is concerning,” Brodie says.

Parents worried

Some parents in the sprawling township of Majwemasweu in Brandfort, in the Free State, have vowed to reject any plan by the Department of Basic Education to reopen primary schools.

Brandfort has been battling with chronic water shortages and parents say they fear that their children may contract the coronavirus.

“In terms of our children, it’s not safe at all. I really don’t think it’s a good idea for our children to go back to school it’s not safe for us. The water was an issue from the beginning in Brandfort it has always been an issue so children going back to school it’s clear an aspect that we can’t overlook it poses a danger,” says one parent.

Free State Human Rights Commission manager, Thabang Kheswa, has appealed to the Basic Education Department to ensure that the school environment is conducive for learning.

“Water is very important in the fight against COVID-19. We can’t have a school that is operating without adequate access to water for learners. As the South African Human Rights Commission we will be embarking on monitoring processes ensuring that the department is responsible ensuring there is water in all schools,” Kheswa says.

Free State Cooperative Governance MEC, Thembeni Nxangisa, says they will support the Education Department’s programme of ensuring there is sufficient water supply in schools.

“The Department of COGTA in the Free State is working closely and under the instruction of the premier has been providing in edition to areas where there is water shortage – Jojo tanks and trucks supplying water in all communities that need water. We have agreed that we must increase that programme even especially schools.”

Nxangisa is confident that municipalities would be equal to the task of ensuring that service delivery is not compromised at schools.