Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga says the safety of children will be a priority as they plan to open schools. The department announced on Wednesday that schooling will resume on the first of June, with Grade 12s and Grade 7s expected to be the first to return.

Teacher unions are, however, disputing the readiness of the sector, saying that schools were not ready to receive educators and learners on the proposed dates.

“What I’m asking from parents is that they start washing and ironing their children’s uniforms because come the 1st we are resuming,” the Minister said during the Wednesday briefing.

Motshekga says that a safe school environment is in the interest of all stakeholders in the sector.

“Why should we have no interest in ensuring that schools are safe? It’s in our interest to make schools safe. It’s in our interest to protect children. So, we are doing everything in our abilities. Where we fail, it will not be for lack of will. We would have failed and we will explain what went wrong.”

While the Department of Basic Education is adamant that it’s all systems go, labour unions say all is not well. Among the concerns for the reopening is the lack of water at over 3 000 schools.

Motshekga says that from next week, water will be delivered to these schools. “I said to the unions, from Monday the 25th, we are doing a countdown. For instance, water … we could not deliver water tanks to schools without people present. We will start delivering tanks next week.”

School governing bodies react to the school reopening plan:

Specialist family physician and health expert, Dr Fundile Nyati, says that children under the age of 19 form less than 2% of the global COVID-19 positive cases, making them a lower risk for the virus. In cases of infections, they also display moderate symptoms.

However, Dr Nyati says that it remains to be seen whether the government has ensured health and safety at schools.

“What we do not know though is, if we are saying the kids need to go back to school on the 1st of June, has the Department of Basic Education done enough on the ground in the schools, to ensure that there is safety for the teachers, who are the employees? Because as an employer, they have an obligation in terms of the Occupation Health and Safety Act to provide a healthy and safe environment. But also, are the schools going to be safe for the learners?”

Specialist family physician and health expert Dr Fundile Nyati talks about schools readiness:

In the video below, parents and teachers are divided over the reopening of schools:

With just over a week left before the anticipated return of learners, it remains to be seen whether schools bells will indeed ring across the country.

The Department of Basic Education’s plans to open schools in South Africa amid COVID-19 pandemic.