Basic education minister Angie Motshekga, April 30. Picture: JAIRUS MMUTLE/GCIS
Basic education minister Angie Motshekga, April 30. Picture: JAIRUS MMUTLE/GCIS

Basic education minister Angie Motshekga was still consulting teachers, governing bodies and students about plans to reopen schools, she told parliament on Tuesday morning, just hours before she was due to brief the media on government’s final decision.

Teachers and families will be keenly watching to see which schools will be permitted to open, and which grades will go back first. A plan discussed with interest groups last week proposed schools in areas with high Covid-19 transmission remain shut, and face-to-face teaching resume for only Grade 12 learners. The plan proposed that all schools in SA’s metros — where transmission of the disease is highest — remained closed. That would effectively shutter a fifth of SA’s 25,475 schools.

The minister is facing stiff opposition from unions to the opening of schools on June 1, because many provinces have yet to convince teachers that they will be returning to a safe working environment, and has repeatedly delayed scheduled briefings.

Her original proposal, announced in April, was that learners would return in a phased manner, starting with grades 12 and 7. Office workers were to resume duties on May 4, school management teams on May 11, and teachers were expected to return to schools on May 18.

However, it has since emerged that many schools still do not have the means to ensure they can follow the social distancing and hygiene protocols set out by the education department.

“Eighty percent of schools have reported no deliveries of personal protective equipment,” the president of the National Professional Teachers' Organisation of SA, Basil Manuel, told Business Day.

Motshekga briefly joined a virtual meeting of parliament’s portfolio committee on basic education and its select committee on education and technology that had convened to discuss quality assurance body Umalusi’s annual performance plan, and told MPs she would be leaving to consult student bodies, teachers and school governing bodies. She was expected to meet Naptosa at 11.30am, according to Manuel, and the Federation of School Governing Bodies (Fedsas) later in the day.

Fedsas CEO Paul Colditz said it supported a differentiated approach to opening schools in different districts, based on the extent of Covid-19 transmission. While children were at low risk from Covid-19, the adults who taught them and transported them to school were not, he said.

The National Alliance of Independent Schools Associations (Naisa) said it had asked the department of basic education to consider giving private schools the flexibility to resume face-to-face teaching if they could safely do so.

“Provincial education departments and municipalities should be given the authority to assess and give permission for schools to open,” said Naisa chair Mandla Mchunu. Almost half (929) of SA’s 1,966 private schools are in metropolitan areas, he said.

Motshekga is expected to brief the media on the plans for reopening schools at 6pm.

As of Monday evening, SA had recorded 16,433 cases of Covid-19 and 286 deaths. Close to 10,000 of the cases are in the Western Cape, the majority of which are in the Cape Town metropolitan area.