The Council of Education Ministers (CEMs) in conjunction with the National Coronavirus Command Council and Cabinet took a decision to delay the reopening of both public and private schools by two weeks.
On Monday, 11 January 2021, President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the nation and said that there was understandable concern about whether it was advisable to reopen schools in the midst of a second wave of infections.
Presidents Ramaphosa said at time that the matter of education was being dealt with by the National Coronavirus Command Council.
Between Tuesday and Wednesday this week, the Department of Basic Education (DBE) consulted the CEM, Heads of Education Departments Committee (HEDCOM), the national school governing body associations, teacher unions, learner formations, principal associations, as well as national associations representing independent schools and learners with special education needs, according to the DBE.
The DBE said all the stakeholders were united in supporting the delay in the reopening of schools in the country.
Reginah Mhaule, Deputy Minister of Basic Education, said that included the private schools that had reopened already. Mhaule said they would need to postpone their reopening to a later date.
“This is done to provide relief to the health system which is already struggling to cope with the current demand. The dates for the reopening of private schools will vary depending on the calendar that they follow,” said Mhaule.
Deputy Minister Mhaule said for public and private schools that followed the same calendar; school management teams (SMTs) shall report for duty on Monday, 25 January 2021, teachers shall follow on Monday, 01 February 2021 and lastly, learners return on Monday, 15 February 2021.
“SMTs will go first to prepare for the return of teachers and the teachers will prepare for the return of learners. Schools will use the time to finalise outstanding matters regarding admissions, especially the unplaced learners in certain cases,” said Mhaule.
Mahaule said the CEM took the difficult decision having considered all factors as backed up by research and statistics regarding the current state of health system. The priority remains saving lives.
She added that the basic education sector felt the impact of COVID-19 pandemic during the marking of the 2020 National Senior Certificate (NSC) examination scripts.
Mhaule said some of their markers passed away while others withdrew from marking due to fear and anxiety.
“…Because for some of them, their own family members tested positive. In majority cases, the educators indicated they had attended funeral or ceremonies, attended by big groups of people, resulting in gatherings that were not monitored for compliance with health protocols including wearing of masks, social distancing, and regular sanitizing of hands.