Another briefing scheduled by the Department of Basic Education to provide clarity on the reopening of schools was postponed on Thursday after provinces requested more time to prepare.
However, according to stakeholders, this was to be expected due to unresolved concerns in the sector.
Earlier on Thursday, Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga postponed a planned briefing on the state of readiness to reopen schools. She said a special meeting of the Council of Education Ministers would be convened on Monday, News24 reported.
The department said some provinces had requested more time as they waited on the delivery of personal protective equipment (PPE), which had been delayed due to challenges with suppliers and cancelled contracts.
Paul Colditz, the chief executive of the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools (Fedsas), said the meeting called by Motshekga with all the MECs in each province on Monday will give an indication of the provincial readiness to accept learners back into school.
“We always knew it was going to be difficult. We’ve been kept informed through meetings with the ministry and the Department of Basic Education on what needs to be done,” he said.
While some provinces have indicated that they are ready to open schools, Colditz said there was “no way” this was possible.
“Delivery of PPE to schools is going to be a huge task. We know how provinces have suffered in delivering textbooks… in the past… There have been problems over a number of years, particularly in provinces, like Limpopo, which went through court cases,” he said.
For this reason, parents and learners could not be assured that returning to school would be safe, Colditz added.
The CEO of the Governing Body Foundation (GBF), Anthea Cereseto, said only two provinces – Gauteng and the Western Cape – indicated they were prepared.
She said this was partly due to existing problems within the provinces.
“[Gauteng and Western Cape] are in a much better position to organise things. For the most part, they have schools that function and their schools, for the most part, have water and sanitation in place, simply by being wealthier provinces.
“Some provinces did what they were supposed to do, but then their [tender] processes were shut down and they had to start all over again, which they’ve done… but are delayed,” she added.
Cereseto explained there are larger delays centred around critical issues that still need to be tied up.
The department has a monumental task ahead of it to coordinate multiple departments to plan the reopening of schools.
Included in this will plan will have to be the development of standard operating procedures, planning the school calendar and gazetting regulations surrounding this, Cereseto said.
“A lot of what [Motshekga] might want in terms of reopening of schools requires regulations to be amended, and it requires her to have and education sector plan which can get published, so that whatever is necessary for schools to operate is part of a published sector plan,” Cereseto told News24.
The department has not been in a position to state clearly what needs to be included in these regulations, Cereseto added.
However, these regulations – including the school calendar – cannot be gazetted until the department has a solid idea of when schools will reopen, and this in turn depends on provincial readiness, Cereseto said.
‘Some schools will never be ready’
Despite all the planning going into the reopening of schools, “there are going to be some areas and some schools that will never be ready”, Cereseto added.
This includes schools without access to water, as well as those too overcrowded to practice physical distancing.
“Some countries are keeping their children out much longer. We’ve got some academics saying there can be no schooling this year and then we’ve got others saying we must urgently send the younger children back to school, so there is conflicting information,” Cereseto said.
Added to this, unions, NGOs and civil society have also given their critical input into the matter.
These views – sometimes conflicting – will also need to be considered by Motshekga, Cereseto said.