NATIONAL NEWS - Parents who still feel anxious about sending their children back to school when schools reopen next week will have to apply to the department head in their respective provinces for an exemption.
This is according to Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga.
Motshekga was speaking at a briefing in Rustenburg where she delivered an address on the readiness of schools following a meeting with the Council of Education Minister (CEM) and the Heads of Education Department Committee (Hedcom).
“The directives say that if you choose not to send your child to school, you must apply to the provincial education department,” said Motshekga, explaining that parents would need to not only obtain an exemption certificate allowing parents to keep their children out of school but that they would also need to apply for home education and comply with the department’s home education requirements.
“A parent who does not want to send their child to school must apply for approval of home education from the principal. Children with underlying health conditions can receive this approval,” added the minister.
Motshekga prefaced her address by apologising for cancelling Sunday’s briefing, stating that she had to visit a number of schools in order to ascertain their readiness ahead of welcoming back students.
“Due to last-minute changes, on Saturday we had a CEM, and after the CEM we met with unions, governing bodies and received reports… the decision that we took on Saturday forced me to use Sunday to do a series of consultations not to receive learners today.
“The main focus of these meetings was to collaborate with our key stakeholders and put in place measures to ensure the readiness of the system to ensure the phased reopening of schools,” added the minister.
According to Motshekga, reports discussed at these meetings that were compiled by the consortium of service providers coordinated by the National Education Collaboration Trust, Hedcom and Rand Water (in its capacity as an implementing agent delivering water to 3,500 schools) all indicated that a substantial number of schools would not be ready for reopening on Monday 1 June.
However, the three reports on the state of readiness, on the preparedness regarding sanitation and on overall provincial readiness, all show that there is an alleged 80% level of readiness among schools to welcome students back.
“Based on these reports, it became clear that the sector was at different levels of readiness. We were allowed to open schools only if we met the health requirements.”
She acquiesced that not all provinces were at the same level of readiness.
“The decision was that there were other key factors around safety for the coronavirus which have not been satisfied, like water. It would be risky to have a blanket opening of schools. The CEM stated that it requires more time to mop up its state of readiness for schools.”
The phased reopening of schools planned for 1 June was announced on 19 May.
“My view is that any further delays pose a very serious threat to the system and the future that learners are yearning for… Poor learners will be disadvantaged if we do not continue learning,” said Motshekga.
“We communicated, unfortunately, quite late that parents should not bring grade 7s and 12s to schools, but teachers who have received PPEs must return to work,” she added, confirming that effective learning and teaching should resume on 8 June.
The minister further explained that teachers at some of the schools she visited at the weekend expressed that they are not ready to start with classes as they still had to prepare based on the changes to the curriculum.
Among the outstanding items on the department’s to-do list in “mopping up” its state of readiness for schools, Motshekga confirmed that there was a need to finalise all outstanding deliveries of PPE to schools and to finalise the outstanding provision of water and sanitation. It would be up to Rand Water to deliver outstanding tankers to all schools over the weekend.
However, schools that have already received their PPE were expected to return to work on Monday.
“Cleaning of surfaces and equipment is mandatory. A mask is a must in every instance. Offices and schools are required to provide a minimum of two cloth masks to everyone.”
“Every school must have a sufficient quantity of hand sanitisers, based on the number of learners, educators, officials. Schools must have facilities for washing of hands with soap and clean water,” she added.
Additionally, Motshekga declared that more teachers need to be inducted and undergo orientation about Covid-19 so that they can, in turn, induct learners when they return.
“Provinces must finalise the training of screeners and school nutrition food handlers. We have to help force our children to adapt to the new environment of Covid-19.”
Schools and offices that do not comply with the minimum health measures will remain closed and the department would work to provide the communities served by these schools with an alternative.
The minister advised that schools that have completed all the necessary steps should use this week for induction and orientation.
Regarding the movement of people between provinces and districts, Motshekga stated that there would be permits issued by the department to educators and officials who need to travel in the course of their work.
Students and the drivers of their scholar transport would need to obtain permits from their schools’ principals in order to travel between provinces and/or districts.