The Department of Basic Education’s plans to reopen schools on 1 June 2020 have been met with criticism, with calls for the minister, Angie Motshekga, to reconsider choosing a later date or face a court action.
Motshekga, in a press briefing held on Monday, 1 June 2020, said the postponement of the reopening of schools in some parts of the country was to be blamed on a number of factors including the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) which was meant to have been delivered in both primary and secondary schools.
The department’s failure to deliver water tanks in water scarce communities was also blamed for the postponement[JE2] , now schools will reopen on 8 June 2020, as announced by the minister.
“The different levels of readiness was determined by a research consortium coordinated by the National Education Collaboration Trust. In the main, it was for this reason that the Council of Education Ministers determined that the sector requires more time to mop-out its state of readiness for school reopening, in order to comply with the health and safety standards on Covid-19,” Motshekga said.
Concerned groups including teachers’ unions, the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), and civil society organisations (CSOs) like Section27, Equal Education, and #NotInMyNameSA. among others, said some schools were not ready to reopen.
SAHRC’s communications coordinator Gushwell Brookes said their independent monitoring has shown that more than 3 500 schools still have no access to water, even though the minister was pushing for the reopening.
“The commission supports the opening of schools as soon as possible in order to give effect to the rights of learners to education – a matter of great national importance to our country in many aspects – it believes that this should be done in tandem with reasonable and adequate measures and efforts to safeguard the right to health of learners and educators,” he said.
Brookes said that most schools are not ready for reopening, adding that schools would reopen should minimum conditions like adequate clean water and ablution facilities, social distancing, the availability of PPEs, training of teachers and the general sanitisation of schools be met.
He said the SAHRC was still waiting for feedback from the provincial offices in this regard.
CSOs and unions against reopening
These plans by the department have shown the cracks in the education system, especially in public schools, said CSOs in a joint press statement. The education department had failed to fulfil its promises to have the schools ready to open by 1 June 2020.
According to media reports, some trade unions said they will not allow for a select few schools to reopen. In the Western Cape, there were reports that some schools were ready to resume with academic activities.
“This means we will show solidarity with the plight of other provinces and indeed, sympathy with the plight of thousands of our teachers and children across the nation. The schools across the country must prioritise the training of the teachers on the amended curriculum and allow the teachers the professional autonomy to help the learners as and when they finally return to schools,” said the trade unions.
CSOs said there is renewed uncertainty about the way forward for schooling even after the minister’s press briefing.
“We urge the department to engage in meaningful consultation with learners, school staff and caregivers, and to move expeditiously in ensuring that all deliveries occur at all schools. It is critical that the uncertainty surrounding the re-opening of schools is resolved in the interest of the right to basic education for all learners in South Africa.”