Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga on Monday announced that public schools across the country will shut down this week and reopen on 19 July.
The decision comes after President Cyril Ramaphosa’s address on Sunday that schools must be closed by 30 June 2021 due to the third wave of the coronavirus in South Africa.
Addressing media on Monday, Motshekga said teaching will stop on Wednesday, and that the department will use both Thursday and Friday to enable teachers and managers to properly close schools.
The minister also said parents should make arrangements for learners at boarding schools to be collected by Friday.
“Public schools will come back from the winter vacation early on 19 July instead of 26 July 2021, as it was originally scheduled in the 2021 School Calendar,” said Motshekga.
Adding that school management teams (SMT), teachers, learners in hostel facilities and learners with special education needs waiting for parents to pick them up should report at school until Friday 2 July.
“Parents, need to make arrangements that by Friday 12:30, there should be no learners in our hostels and facilities,” said Motshekga.
The minister said schools must make arrangements that for the remaining three days, learners continue to receive their meals.
Adding that the department encourages our learners to remain safe.
Motshekga said learners should not gather in crowds.
“They must apply hygiene practices as all times and avoid activities that may expose them to infections,” said Motshekga.
Schools were initially meant to close on 9 July. The date was brought forward following the governing party’s decision to place the country on stricter restrictions for the next 14 days.
National Professional Teachers’ Organization of South Africa’s (Naptosa) Basil Manuel said the department of basic education needs to let go of this calendar because the pandemic is so unpredictable.
“We need to make decisions based on how the pandemic is because if not, we will continue changing dates of closing and reopening schools,” said Manuel.
Manuel said the date set by the DBE is not realistic and it would be best if schools open a week later to the proposed date.
“Winter holidays are normally three weeks, maybe we should do that because teachers have been at school for the longest time without a break, this is the longest time in history,” added Manuel.
Education Union of South Africa’s (EUSA) Spokesperson Kabelo Mahlobongwane was harsher in his response.
“She [Motshekga] must just relax,” he said.
“The reopening of schools will be guided by the third wave and not her ambition to see teachers and learners spread the virus through these unsafe buildings she refers to as schools,” said Mahlobongwane.
Mahlobongwane said the focus right now must on saving lives. Adding that, “this is the only thing EUSA will entertain”.
Mahlobongwane said teachers who feel the anxiety of going to work on Thursday and Friday should take their two days sick leave.
“Should they face any challenges come third term, they should contact us for assistance – members or non-members,” he said.
Motshekga said the DBE together with the Council of Education Ministers (CEM) agreed that the usual winter vacation learner support programmes for grade 11 and 12 organised by provinces, districts and schools should continue.
“They have been instructed to continue under very strict conditions in compliance with the Covid-19 health and safety protocols,” said Motshekga.
However, Manuel told Inside Education that Naptosa is not satisfied with this decision.
“We have questioned these camps for a long time, we believe that we are looking for trouble particularly with this variant of this virus because those residential camps, the supervision is too little,” said Manuel.
Manuel said they cannot have tutors or teachers “coming in and out” of venues, making it easy for the virus to spread.
“We do not want things to go pair-shaped, it is a good intention, but we can never support this idea,” said Manuel.