Curro Foundation School in Roodeplaat, Pretoria. Picture: SUNDAY WORLD/TSHEPO KEKANA
Curro Foundation School in Roodeplaat, Pretoria. Picture: SUNDAY WORLD/TSHEPO KEKANA

After insisting classroom education will take place in its schools, Curro, SA’s largest private education provider, made a U-turn on Monday, saying it will now provide online learning until February 15.

Curro had said it would open its doors despite the education ministry pushing back the start of the school year by another two weeks to February 15 due to rising Covid-19 infections.

Gauteng education MEC Panyaza Lesufi has called for the postponement to be made official in a government gazette.

Lesufi on Monday visited an independent school in Johannesburg, Helpmekaar Kollege, that also initially disregarded the government’s decision to postpone the start of the academic year. The school reversed its decision after his visit.

Curro had asked some of its learners to come to school in person and others to learn online.

Lesufi said the decision to delay the reopening of schools was based on expert advice. Gauteng had begun to see an influx of people from outside SA as many of its borders were still open. Many companies were also resuming operations and workers were flocking to the province, which created great concern.

“The delay to reopen schools does not question schools’ capability to manage the virus; it is more to help minimise the movement of people so we reduce the chances of infections. Schools may well have the means to sanitise and keep social distancing, but those learners move daily between home and schools, thereby raising the chances that young people spread this virus,” Lesufi said.

The school, which accommodates more than 1,000 pupils, said it had reopened before the department's announcement, but had reviewed its decision. Classes would be moved to an online platform and only seven learners would remain in its boarding facility because they did not have access to online learning support at home.

Of Curro, Lesufi said: “I spoke to the CEO of Curro schools and they have also agreed to retract face-to-face learning. The province is under siege from the Covid-19 virus and we need everyone to play their part.”

Lesufi said he had asked the department of basic education to ensure the delay is gazetted so the decision becomes law.

“We will retreat for two weeks and monitor the situation; wait for the experts to advise [us], and then make an announcement on whether we return or not. Our decision will always be based on sound, scientifically backed advice,” he added.

In a statement on Monday, Curro Holdings CEO Andries Greyling said the group had an “ongoing commitment to its compliance with legislation and our unwavering support regarding the management of the Covid-19 pandemic”.

“Curro continues to balance its responsibilities towards our learners and their parents, our staff, the [under] pressure health sector and our leaders every step of the way. All decisions are made with the health and safety of all in our environment, as a priority, balanced with the need to continue providing education to those who have placed their faith in us at this difficult time.”

The group said it had met the director-general of basic education, Hubert Mathanzima Mweli, and his delegation to obtain further clarity on school closures and the impact on independent schools.

“After careful consideration of the health crisis, we will move to online learning for grade one to 12 during this week. We would like to play our part in relieving the pressure on the health system and fight the pandemic. Schools will use this week to realign plans.

“Staff will continue to provide a full day’s classes via remote learning, from Monday to Friday each week, across grade one to 12, nationally. This arrangement will remain in place as long as is required, and we will continue to maintain regular and constructive engagement with the [department] and other key role players to ensure Curro’s support of the national health initiative,” said Greyling.

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