Motshekga must provide clear guidelines for reopening of schools: Civil society

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Some civil society organisations say they are keenly awaiting clarity from the Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga on how schools will be prepared to open amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools have been closed for nearly six weeks as government battles to contain the virus.

To get schools ready to operate during the lockdown, precautions must be implemented. Motshekga is scheduled to address the public on these matters on Tuesday afternoon.

As the country awaits with bated breath Motshekga’s address, civil society organisation Section 27 says much more needs to be done.

“We are concerned about issues such as the school’s nutrition programme; children with disabilities; whether there are enough PPEs; the vital role of sanitation for over 4 000 schools with pit toilets and lack of running water. How will social distancing work at schools? How will scholar patrol be implemented?” asks Section 27 Spokesperson, Motheo Brodie.

Equal Education Secretary General Noncedo Madubedube echoes Brodie’s sentiments.

“There are a couple of things we want to hear as the Minister addresses the nation, is the feeding schemes. We are concerned as the country faces a humanitarian crisis around food shortages, that learners in poor and working-class communities become even more marginalised in terms of food security. So, we think its imperative for the programme to open regardless of who is back at school or not. We want a plan on how to track and make sure that learners who are locked down will have access to curricular,” she says.

In the video below, is a report on concerns that rural schools may not be ready for reopening:

Minimum requirements

COPE and the Freedom Front Plus say minimum requirements must be adhered to for schools to reopen.

“We agree with unions that all minimum requirements must be met. Like proper infrastructure – toilets, sanitiser, masks, soap and water must be there. Must be sure there will be social distancing, that’s the only way we can support opening of schools again,” says COPE’s Dennis Bloem.

“There are many ways to present education. The normal school is not the only way. It’s not new news, but it seems the department is only learning it now. The department used to be quite sceptical about homeschooling placing stringent regulations to homeschooling, now much more accommodating,” says the Freedom Front Plus’ Wouter Boshoff.

The DA’s MP, Mbulelo Bara, says the party supports the reopening of schools but with conditions.

“There are issues, namely water and sanitising, and social distancing how will it work where there are a lot of learners in the class. Thirdly some schools were burnt down during lockdown what will happen there? There must be the provision of masks and PPEs for teachers.”

ACDP MP, Marie Soekers, believes it’s possible to save the academic year.

“We want to hear about curriculum adjustments for the rest of the year; to make sure the year is not lost. Not late return but the safety of children is most important.”

The Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) has called on Motshekga to put an end to the confusion with regards to the reopening of schools and the process leading up to this.

The Department previously told Parliament that school management staff should return to schools on the 11th of May to prepare for learners in grades 7 and 12 to return to school on the 1st of June.

Below is a graphic on the proposed dates for schools reopening:

“The IFP is concerned that the department issues instructions to teachers and those instructions are in a matter of within days or hours are withdrawn. The IFP is, therefore, saying the ministers and MECs must take leadership. They must stop this confusion. They must stop confusing teachers, they must stop confusing learners; they must stop confusing parents. They must take leadership and be decisive on the issue of education so as to save the academic year 2020 for South Africa,” says IFP member of the KwaZulu-Natal legislature, Mntomuhle Khawula.

Committee chairperson Bongiwe Mbinqo-Gigaba was unavailable for comment.