GEORGE - The Western Cape education system was well prepared to welcome back learners on Monday 15 February. Western Cape Minister of Education Debbie Schäfer said staff have been back at school for much longer than is usual for the beginning of the school year, so they have had extra time to prepare for the arrival of learners and put plans in place to cope with any further disruptions to schools.
"I would like to thank them for the positive and productive manner in which they have come back to school, and wish them the very best for the year."
Schäfer said the safety of staff and learners remains their priority as the school year starts, and this was obvious at every school in George. Learners' hands were sanitised, teachers made sure masks were on, their temperature was taken and even the soles of their shoes were cleaned.
"The same safety protocols that were implemented last year will remain in place this year, because our data has shown that these protocols work well to stop the spread of the virus," Schäfer said.
She said some grades will still need to rotate timetables, with the exception of the matrics, who will again receive priority this year and attend every day.
"I am aware that the rotational timetables are difficult for parents who are trying to work, but we need to ensure that we comply with the distancing requirements in the interests of safety."
The first day back at Thembalethu Primary and the new Jonga High School was successful. At Thembalethu Primary the success was partly due to the 28 education assistants deployed to the school. Principal Bathini Tyesi said he was extremely happy to see the smiles on the faces of the 1 722 learners entering the school grounds one by one. "Covid is a challenge, but all our protocols are in place. The department supplied us with enough PPEs and our school books and stationery were delivered last year already."
Meanwhile across the road at Jonga High School, the new school at the back of Thembalethu, learners were filing through the front gate straight into class. Acting headmaster Tos Louw said,
"This year we have an extra 300 learners as we have an extra grade, Grade 11. The school is ready for the year and the teachers are ready for Covid. All our procedures are in place. The learners will have to attend school on Saturdays so that we can catch up on lost time."
The inauguration of the Grade 8s and new students at Glenwood House College has always been a traditional ceremony referred to as the Ringing of the Bell, which under normal circumstances would be attended by close friends and family of the learners. This year, however, it had to take place with all Covid-19 protocols in place and was also streamed online for those who couldn't attend.
The school also welcomed back 50 Grade 1 learners who, after starting on 13 January, were sent home three days later to attend classes via the internet and could only return to school on 25 January.
Headmaster Dennis Symes said, "Fortunately we were able to make the best of a difficult situation. Thank you for allowing your children to attend Glenwood House. We sincerely trust that they will be happy at our school, and that we will be able to add value to their lives."
At Denneoord Primary School they have 102 Grade 1s, with one Afrikaans and two English classess. The school has a total of 658 learners. Principal Herman du Plessis said the school is blessed to start the year on a positive note. "We wish all our learners and parents a prosperous new year and remind them to live to the fullest, now more than ever."
George South Primary School is proud of their new grade RR classes at the Dutch Reformed Church Tuinedal. They started the year with 1 237 learners, with 157 Grade 1s. They also have more Grade 1 classes this year than before.
Pacaltsdorp Primary School is off to a good start, said acting principal Edwin Manuel. They started the year with 1 204 learners, which includes 60 Grade R learners. Robert Grootboom, principal at Dellville Park Primary School, said they did everything to get the school ready for the first day.
"We even had orientation so it would be an easy transition for the learners joining us for the first time. And still we have enquiries from parents not sure which days their children should be at school." He could give a total number of new Grade 1 learners, as they still are getting new applications and registrations.
Principal Lokkie Fourie at George Preparatory School said the school is prepared for 2021. They have 129 Grade Rs and 210 Grade 1 learners. "Every class was made interesting and pretty, since it is such a difficult time with Covid-19. That is why we tried to put everything in place ahead of time."
At both Blanco and Kretzenshoop primary schools everything was as it should be for the new academic year. Both schools were positive about the new curriculum and having smaller classes that rotate.
Blanco has 28 new Grade 1 learners divided into two classes. These are again subdivided to have seven learners per class per day, on a rotating basis, said department head Leana Gilliomee. Kretzenshoop Primary's principal, Elton Titus, said like last year, they have 114 Grade 1s.
"I believe the schoolground is currently the safest area for the children. We had the school deep-cleaned last Friday, so we are really proactive when it comes to safety." Titus said on Monday there were 432 learners, half of the school's total of 864 learners.
Minister Schäfer said the districts and schools have been completing the normal back-to-school processes as they do each year. "Top-up textbooks were ordered last year and have been delivered to schools. Any maintenance issues that arose during the holidays are being assessed."
She said the curriculum advisors have been hard at work with teachers to ensure successful implementation of the adjusted teaching plans from the national government.
"Our curriculum team and teachers have held large-scale virtual mediation sessions to ensure that they are familiar with the adjusted plans. We have a lot of catching up to do, and it will take more than one year to do so. We urge communities not to disrupt the re-opening of schools in any way - our learners cannot afford to lose any time to unnecessary disruption."
Minister Debbie Schäfer released the following statement on 14 February:
I am disappointed that we have again had numerous schools fall victim to burglary and vandalism over the holiday period. Our schools simply cannot afford to lose resources at this point in time, and the Department does not have the spare budget to keep replacing stolen or damaged items.
I appeal once again to our school communities to keep a close watch on their schools and to report any suspicious activity to SAPS immediately. We saw just recently in the case of stolen National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP) food that quick reporting by a member of the public can lead to a swift arrest and the recovery of stolen goods.
Lastly, we are still struggling to place learners, which is causing parents understandable anxiety. We have steadily reduced the numbers who need placement, and our districts are continuing to do their best to find everyone a space who is entitled to one. I appeal to parents to continue to exercise patience and understand that they will not necessarily be able to find a space in their schools of choice. I also appeal to schools to accommodate as many people as they possibly can.
It is important that we get back to learning as soon as possible. We are doing everything within our power to make that happen.
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