As South Africa enters its third week of alert level 4 lockdown, one of the more contentious issues has been that of re-opening schools. In order to address those concerns Minister Angie Motshekga briefed media at a press conference earlier this evening to discuss what the Department of Basic Education’s (DBE) plan is to re-open schools.

The minister spoke last week regarding this issue, urging that institutions in the country do not open preemptively, and take a phased approach to the process. The DBE has outlined that office-based workers could return on 4th May, followed by school management on 11th May, then teachers on 18th May and finally students on 1st June.

This evening’s media briefing echoed that plan, with Motshekga noting that the National Coronavirus Command Centre (NCCC) has been in contact with the DBE and says it has been given the go ahead for the 1st June re-open date.

“The NCCC has confirmed that schools could open on 1 June, the revised school calendar will be gazetted soon. It indicates the opening and closing dates and the breaks in between,” the minister explained.

There is one important caveat though to the re-open schools plan, with it too needing to happen in phases. To that end students in Grade 7 and Matric will be the first ones to head back to school on 1st June.

For Matric students this decision will prove critical, as they have recently been informed that their end of year exams will cover the entire 2020 syllabus. This means that those schools who have not been able to keep their Matric students up to date, will now be scrambling to get the syllabus covered in time.

Along with the phased approach for different Grades returning to school, the minister confirmed that no school sport will be played at this time, along with other plans the DBE has to get essential medical supplies to institutions in various provinces.

“We will be using innovative methods about how we meet health, safety, social or physical distancing requirements. The trimmed curriculum will be sent to school for planning purposes,” she noted.

“School sports will not be permitted as they will increase the chances of infection and undermine our efforts of containing the coronavirus. When class is dismissed, learners must go home. We urge parents to work with us on this matter,” the minister added.

Along with this, Motshekga has said that food programmes and the way in which food is handled at schools will also fall under the DBE’s purview as it presents a potential area of concern for infections. She also explained that teachers and students alike will get necessary training when it comes to the process of re-opening schools.

“All learners, educators and support staff will receive orientation and training at the start of the school reopening commencing with Grade 7 and 12,” she highlighted.

With the aforementioned gazetting of opening and closing dates still forthcoming, it remains to be seen how schools in the country, and particularly those in rural areas and others which cater to children with special needs, will react to this latest announcement.

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