June 1 pencilled in as D-Day for schools

Basic education minister Angie Motshekga
Basic education minister Angie Motshekga
Image: Thapelo Morebudi/The Sunday Times

It is back to school on June 1 for grade 12 and 7 pupils — for now.

That was according to basic education minister Angie Motshekga on Thursday. She was speaking at a press briefing alongside higher education minister Blade Nzimande.

She stressed that these were “proposed dates”.

Matrics and grade 7 would be first, she said, and these grades would “have the whole school to themselves”.

Motshekga said that it was proposed that the education sector began to get back to work on May 4. This was, however, she stressed, for senior officials, and that teachers would go back on May 18.

“We were proposing that the sector goes back on May 4, next week Monday. For us to be ready, we need to open the sector so that the first group of officials goes in and prepares,” she said.

She stressed this was a “proposed calendar that we are consulting around”.

“If we are to save the year, the success will be in the classroom,” she said earlier.

She said that the safety of teachers and pupils was the top priority.

"[Our] priority was ensuring that, as a sector, we contribute towards the lowering of infections. We also ensure the safety of learners and educators, but also balance that around protecting the academic year of 2020 as much as possible.

“In the past few weeks we have experienced major problems and there has been an increasing anxiety, understandably so, because we serve more than 13m learners. Members of the community have been worried about when learners will be allowed back — if they are even to be allowed back,” she said.

At the same time institutions of higher learning — universities and technical vocational education and training (TVET) colleges, both public and private — would remain closed during level four of the lockdown and would only resume activities at lower levels of the government’s risk-adjusted strategy to slowly relax Covid-19.

 Higher education, training, science & innovation minister Blade Nzimande stressed at a media briefing on Thursday that the overriding concern in making this decision was to contain the spread of Covid-19 infections and to save the 2020 academic year, but not at the expense of saving lives.

He could not give a date when institutions would open, saying that the government had to be guided by science and not submit to populist pressures.

The risks of an early return for staff and 2.5m students were simply too great, he said.

Educational institutions cannot operate outside the rules of a general lockdown — and universities and TVET colleges do not operate in a vacuum. It was possible, the minister said, that the university academic year could be extended into early 2021 depending on the development of the pandemic.

The 2021 academic year would be aligned with the plans of the department of basic education regarding the organisation of the matric examinations.

The minister suggested that the 2020 academic year could extend to as late as April 2021, though he hoped it would end in February or March.

There will be a controlled return of final-year clinical training students — mainly medical students — to assist with the health management campaign of the department of health.

Efforts are being devoted to developing flexible learning methods. Multi-modal, remote learning systems will be implemented to provide academic support at all institutions.

Nzimande assured that no student would be left behind academically in the completion of the 2020 academic year.

Negotiations are under way with the major mobile operators to provide data to students to support remote learning.

Laptops with the necessary connectivity will also be provided to all National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS)-assisted students both in universities and TVET colleges when these become available.

NSFAS funding for students would continue during the lockdown and any extension of the academic year would require additional funding, Nzimande said.#

Protocols for the maintenance of social-distancing, access to sanitisers and masks will be implemented when staff and students return to the universities and colleges, and they will also be screened.

Quarantine sites are being identified near the institutions.

TVET colleges will also have to reorganise their academic year for 2020.

Nzimande said trainees and those in learnerships at the workplace would continue to be paid.

He has extended the due date for the submission of workplace skills plans by employers from April 30 to May 31.

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