Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga said it will be devastating if the country’s schools are not allowed to reopen on 19 July as planned.
Motshekga said the education sector has already lost significant time due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which will have long-term ramifications.
She said her department plans to open on 19 July as gazetted but, “we will not be irresponsible if there are still difficulties by the time we want to open and bring more learners”.
Motshekga said she and the relevant stakeholders, including the Council of Education Ministers, will take the appropriate decision when the time comes and will relook their decision after the 14-day period given my President Cyril Ramaphosa during his address to on progress in the national effort to contain the Covid-19 pandemic.
Ramaphosa said Cabinet decided that the country should move to Adjusted Alert Level 4 and that the additional restrictions announced that evening will be in place for the next 14 days.
Ramaphosa said government will assess the impact of these interventions after 14 days to determine whether they need to be maintained or adjusted. The announcement will be made this coming Sunday, 11 July 2021.
Motshekga said the decision to open schools on 19 July or keep them closed will be taken closer to the time.
“But for now, we are not changing any of the plans. The reopening of schools and other lockdown restrictions will ultimately be contingent on national government,” 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 Motshekga needs to let go of this calendar because the pandemic is so unpredictable.
Education Union of South Africa’s (EUSA) Spokesperson Kabelo Mahlobongwane said the minister needs to relax. Adding that the reopening of schools will be guided by the third wave and “not Motshekga’s ambition to see teachers and learners spread the virus through these unsafe buildings she refers to as schools”.
Motshekga’s comments come as her department plans to wrap up its education sector inoculation programme by Friday this week.
The minister said the sector would remain vigilant in monitoring the developments of the epidemiology and will continue to work closely with the Department of Health. She said her department will also look at the feasibility of the earlier pronounced of full attendance of primary school learners from the first day of the third school term.
Motshekga urged educators who are not yet vaccinated to get their jab. She said educators were prioritised in this phase of vaccine rollout and are therefore expected to take advantage of the opportunity to avoid further disruptions and learning losses in the sector.
We urge all educators and staff to follow the schedules in each district in order to ensure a smooth roll-out of the programme, said the minister.
Motshekga said the basic education sector will continue to administer the remaining doses of the vaccine to cover the remaining 282 512 staff.
“In addition, support staff from independent schools, food handlers, screeners, cleaners and ECD practitioners will be included in the roll out programme,” she said.
According to the DBE, more than 333 000 teachers and support staff have since been vaccinated since the campaign started on 23 June 2021.
DBE Spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said phase one targeted 300 000 educators and staff to be vaccinated within the first 10 days of the programme.
“This target was based on the number of doses allocated of the Johnson& Johnson vaccine to the sector.
“By the end of Day one of the sector’s vaccination programme, the Basic Education sector had vaccinated a total of 48 000 of the Phase one target,” said Mhlanga.
Adding that by 1 July, nine days since the start of the vaccination programme, over 100% (300 052) of the Phase one target was met across the country’s nine provinces.
He said the basic education sector received an additional 289 000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
“These additional doses will enable the sector to reach its overall target of vaccinating 582 564 educators and non-teaching staff,” said Mhlanga.