Basic education minister Angie Motshekga said schools cannot remain closed, even if there is a danger of Covid-19 with them reopening. And, while she cannot guarantee that nobody will die, people must have access to education.
Motshekga said it was impossible to wait for the complete eradication of the virus before proceeding with plans to reopen schools. She made an example that the virus might only cease to exist in 2022 and it is not possible to keep schools closed until then.
“Life has to move on,” she said.
Motshekga was briefing the media on Tuesday evening, where she announced that the National Coronavirus Command Council had approved June 1 as the first day of school for grades seven and 12.
Earlier this month, the minister announced that the department was planning to open schools using a phased in approach, and that they will start with these two grades.
On Tuesday, Motshekga said the department relied on the advice of medical experts led by the department of health to inform its plan to open schools.
Her announcement comes after she met with MECs of education. Motshekga said the report she had received from provinces showed that they were making progress and the department was ready for the reopening of schools. That progress is related to the delivery of sanitizers, personal protective equipment, the provision of water in those schools without water and the deep cleaning of schools. She had previously said that schools will not open without these provisions in place — the minimum requirements for teachers and learners to not spread Covid-19 at school.
By Monday this week, the national school management team (which includes principals) was meant to have reported on this progress. But it failed to do so because some provinces reported that these essentials had not been delivered to schools.
In a joint statement last week, teacher unions said only two provinces had indicated they were ready for the reopening of schools.
At the same briefing on Tuesday, deputy minister Reginah Mhaule said deliveries for the essentials are currently happening in provinces. “In some schools deliveries have already taken place. So, there is no way that teachers will come to school and find that there are no sanitizers… so we are fighting this Covid-19 together.”
Motshekga said the different provinces have their plans on how they are planning for the reopening of schools but they are all guided by the same principles that no learner will be left behind.
She said it was difficult to make guarantees that people will be safe when they return to school that the department was doing everything to protect people by putting the necessary safety measures in place. “I cannot guarantee anything. People are rightfully anxious and therefore we have to work with them but I have no reason to doubt [provinces] just because I cannot make guarantees.”
“And that is why we opened the economy. We did not say we will open the economy in Level 3 because we are sure then that we will not have the virus. Life has to move on. But we must make sure that people are safe,” Motshekga said.
She added: “But I do not want to commit myself and say I guarantee that no one will die but we will try by all means to make sure that people are safe because there is no need for people to find themselves in danger. We are not planning to put people in danger.”
Motshekga said private, small and independent schools will be dealt with differently as some of these schools have smaller numbers and can make the necessary arrangements for their learners to return to school. She said these schools cannot be treated like the rest of the schools in the system that have challenges.