South Africa’s biggest provincial education machine – the school system in KwaZulu-Natal – has been declared safe and ready for pupils on Monday, Premier Sihle Zikalala has said.
Monday will see the arrival of grades 7 and 12 pupils at most of the province’s vast network of schools. This comprises 6 148 schools, 90 000 teachers and more than 2.8 million pupils.
Zikalala said in a statement the province was “now ready to welcome learners from tomorrow [8 June]”.
He added the first priority was “the safety of educators, learners and all involved in school management … to protect lives” and to “ensure we open so we don’t disrupt the academic year”.
If schools detected symptoms or cases at schools, protocols would kick in – including mapping, tracing and screening. Once this immediate research had been conducted, the authorities would then decide whether to either close or decontaminate a school.
Of the total number of schools, 6 044 were ready to reopen “as they have met all the non-negotiables”, Zikalala said, adding 142 were not yet ready – “but were working hard to prepare”.
Media reports this week indicated in three districts in KwaZulu-Natal, 60,000 units of personal protective equipment” (PPE) went missing, of which only some had been found, leaving two smaller districts without the protective gear.
An investigation is underway to get to the bottom of the disappearances.
The provincial government said schools have PPE for the next six months, plus reserve stock.
“Every learner, teacher will be screened as they enter the school premises and data captured temp, comorbidities and all critical information related to Covid-19,” Zikalala added.
The departments of health and social development have activated an army of 8,000 community caregivers, while the public works department assisted the education department to recruit 6,000 people for the expanded public works programme to help with screenings at schools.
Infrastructure to ensure social distancing was also in place, including demarcated pupil traffic direction and seating plans.
The supply of water to all schools remained incomplete.
Zikalala said KZN “is a water-scarce province” and the authorities were working with local municipalities, Rand Water and the SA National Defence Force, to assist.
Training had been completed with those offering scholar transport, and preparing food for schools.
“Cleanliness is key,” he added.
To pupils and teachers, he said: “We wish them well.”
Zikalala urged all to abide by the protective measures in place.
On Sunday, five teacher unions and four school governing body associations finally gave their blessing for schools to reopen this week after receiving a progress report that said 94% were ready, News24 reported.