Charles Cilliers
Journalist
16 minute read
24 Jul 2021
10:22 am

Basic education department ‘ready’ for schools to reopen on Monday

Charles Cilliers

Parents have been waiting eagerly for news of when normal schooling can resume throughout South Africa.

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga. Picture: Gallo Images

Basic Education Minister on Saturday morning provided clarity on the plans for schooling in South Africa after weeks of uncertainty during the ongoing lockdown to curb the spread of Covid-19.

She provided updates on the deaths of some teachers, the ongoing vaccination programme and the revised school calendar.

She said her department is ready for schools to reopen, depending on a planned announcement from President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday evening.

“We hold this media briefing in times of trouble.  It happens on the back of disturbing incidents of looting and burning down of buildings and vehicles,” she said.

“Our young democracy has been tested to the limit; but on the other hand, we have demonstrated what a great nation we are.  South Africans from different walks of life, came forward to lend a hand towards healing, rebuilding and renewal.  As a nation, we should continue to express appreciation and gratitude to all those South Africans who continue to work towards these noble goals, and reject violence with the contempt it deserves.

“We should refuse to be divided along racial and ethnic lines; and where wrong things happened, we should come together, and work for healing and nation-building in this, our beautiful country.

“The unrest happened in the month of July – the Mandela Month, and so close to Mandela Day. In the name of our first democratically elected president, let us ensure that we never again witness the barbaric events recently seen in our country, and rather in his name, work for peace, unity, our country’s wellbeing, and prosperity.”

She said that the department had agreement “across the board, that we are ready for the reopening of schools on Monday, 26 July 2021”. 

“School Management Teams and support staff have already gone back to work, as from Thursday, 22 July 2021, to prepare for the return of learners and teachers on Monday, 26 July 2021.”

“Based on the information obtained from provinces, schools were ready to continue to work within the established Covid-19 health protocols, and also to start resuming full school attendance in the primary schools from 2 August 2021.  The sector continues to be committed, and at all times we are ready to maintain a balance between saving lives and livelihoods, while fighting the coronavirus pandemic.”

The briefing continues, and you can follow it in the video below, in a feed provided by eNCA. The full statement can also be found below:

STATEMENT BY THE MINISTER OF BASIC EDUCATION MRS ANGIE MOTSHEKGA ON THE STATE OF READINESS FOR THE REOPENING OF SCHOOLS

24 JULY 2021

Good morning, thank you for joining us.

We hold this media briefing in times of trouble.  It happens on the back of disturbing incidents of looting and burning down of buildings and vehicles.

Our young democracy has been tested to the limit; but on the other hand, we have demonstrated what a great nation we are.  South Africans from different walks of life, came forward to lend a hand towards healing, rebuilding and renewal.  As a nation, we should continue to express appreciation and gratitude to all those South Africans who continue to work towards these noble goals, and reject violence with the contempt it deserves.

We should refuse to be divided along racial and ethnic lines; and where wrong things happened, we should come together, and work for healing and nation-building in this, our beautiful country.

The unrest happened in the month of July – the Mandela Month, and so close to Mandela Day.  In the name of our first democratically elected President, let us ensure that we never again witness the barbaric events recently seen in our country, and rather in his name, work for peace, unity, our country’s well-being, and prosperity.

In this briefing we will be looking at the following areas – 

  • Readiness for the schools reopening;
  • Readiness for a full return of primary school learners;
  • The Sector vaccination programme;
  • Vandalism of our schools;
  • The function shift of Early Childhood Development for the Department of Social Development (DSD) to the DBE;
  • Update on May / June examinations;
  • Update on the 2023 school calendar; and
  • The National School Nutrition Programme.

On vaccination

First and foremost, I want to take this opportunity to thank the staff at the Department of Health from national to the nine Provincial Departments of Health, for the work done during the vaccination programme in the Basic Education Sector.

We extend our appreciation for the professional service we received at vaccination sites, from the start to the end of the programme.  Teacher unions, organised labour and national governance bodies in the Sector, played a phenomenal role.  Helping with the advocacy, vaccination education as well as information, and leading from the front.  Their support and assistance, as unions, contributed enormously towards the success of the programme.  For that I wish to thank them most sincerely.

I also wish to thank our education entities, such as Umalusi, the South African Council for Educators (SACE), the Education Labour Relations Council (ELRC), and different civil society organisations, working in the education space.

The vaccination programme was important to ensure that schooling gets back on track in one way or another.  Based on the analysis by Professor Martin Gustafsson from the DBE, using information from monthly PERSAL downloads between the end of March 2020 and the end of February 2022, one thousand, six hundred and seventy-eight (1 678) deaths, can be considered the modest figure available for the number of publicly employed educators, who lost their lives to COVID 19.

In addition to the deaths of many other education employees, a Head of Department in the Eastern Cape, an MEC in the Northern Cape, and the President of NATU, the Sector is bleeding from devastating learning losses.  Every study that has been conducted, shows that a generational catastrophe is unfolding in front of our eyes daily.  Something had to be done and still needs to be done to arrest the academic losses.

As far as vaccination plans are concerned, the Sector had targeted five hundred and eighty-two thousand (582 000) personnel in the Basic Education Sector; and when we formally closed the vaccination programme, we recorded five hundred and seventeen thousand (517 000) people, who have received the vaccines – an 89% vaccination success rate.

Reports on the reasons for outstanding numbers, include distance to vaccination sites, vaccination hesitancy, preference of one type of vaccine to another, recent positive COVID-19 results, as well as medical and religious reasons, all account for some of the people, who are still not vaccinated.

Encouraging, is the fact that we continue to receive requests for assistance from some of our personnel, who were initially hesitant, but now are coming forward to ask for help to get the vaccines.  We still hope that educators not yet vaccinated, will join the general population vaccination programmes that are underway.

On the Reopening of Schools

As a Sector, we have held countless consultative sessions to deliberate on the reopening of schools.  Depending on confirmation by the President tomorrow after Cabinet, as a sector there is agreement across the board, that we are ready for the reopening of schools on Monday, 26 July 2021.  School Management Teams and support staff, have already gone back to work, as from Thursday, 22 July 2021, to prepare for the return of learners and teachers on Monday, 26 July 2021.

Based on the information obtained from provinces, schools are ready to continue to work within the established COVID-19 health protocol, also to start resuming full school attendance in the primary schools from the 2nd August 2021.  The Sector continues to be committed, and at all times we are ready to maintain a balance between saving lives and livelihoods, while fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

The Director-General is continuing to convene one-on-one meetings with the Heads of the Provincial Education Departments, to ensure that there is continuous sharing of experiences and working together.

Our DDG for Provincial Delivery and Oversight Unit, Ms Simone Geyer will make a presentation just now to give more details on this matter.

In 2020 the President announced a R100 billion stimulus packages, which amongst other things, was meant to support job creation.  As part of the Presidential Employment Stimulus Programme, to address the devastating impact of COVID-19 on the economy and social infrastructure, the DBE, in collaboration with PEDs, implemented the Basic Education Employment Initiative, as part of the Presidential Youth Employment Initiative.  The DBE and the PEDs were allocated R7 billion Rands, with about R2.4 billion allocated to the saving of posts for teachers employed by SGBs and independent schools.  From this allocation, thirty three thousand, five hundred and forty nine (33 549) posts were saved.

Through this programme, the Sector employed two hundred thousand (200 000) education assistants; and one hundred thousand (100 000) general school assistants.  Altogether, about three hundred and twenty thousand (320 000) young people benefitted from the employment opportunities.  These young people assisted the Sector in addressing challenges in schools, arising out of the COVID-19 outbreaks.  They supported teachers with in-classrooms remedial work, focusing in particular, on learning gaps created by COVID-19 response measures, such as the differentiated timetabling, helping the Sector implement its MTEF plans, such as coding, robotics, ramping up the reading and numeracy programmes; and ensuring that at all times, learning and teaching took place in a safe and conducive environment, in compliance with COVID-19 protocols.

The BEEI was also focused not only on the support that these young people gave to the department, but different training and skilling opportunities were created for them.  Working with different private sector organisations, NGOs and in particular, the education SETA and the construction SETAs, ongoing training was provided to these young people.

The department has since finalised a comprehensive report on this programme, which will soon be made available on the DBE website.

On the vandalism of schools

We want to express our deep concern about what has happened in our schools in recent weeks.  During the unrest in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, schools and education centres were damaged, vandalised and looted.

The KZN Department of Education has submitted a list of one hundred and thirty seven (137) schools which were vandalised, three (3) education centres, and eight (8) circuit offices which were affected.  This is unprecedented, and we are concerned as a Sector, that much needed school infrastructure was damaged.  This is a serious setback, as the sector is already under pressure to provide appropriate facilities for the schooling system.  The province has made arrangements to ensure that all these schools do open on Monday, 26 July 2021, and that teaching and learning continues.

In Gauteng, more than forty three (43) schools have been vandalised since the year began.  Eleven (11) of the cases, were reported after schools went on a recess on 02 July 2021.  Twenty nine (29) of the 43 schools have already been repaired, and work is underway to finish the others as soon as possible.

This senseless attack on the education infrastructure, leads to the vandalism of ablution blocks and plumbing equipment; destruction of water supplies, including theft of school water tanks; ripping off of electric wires, especially copper cables; ripping school fences; setting alight libraries, textbooks and stationery.  Clearly, ICT equipment and the National School Nutrition Programme supplies and equipment were targeted the most.  Saddening is that most schools were left with serious structural damages, which would place the safety of learners and teachers at risk.  Though the DBE and the KZN Department of Education have not finalised all its assessment, the preliminary estimates received as at yesterday, puts the figure above R300 million.

In the face of such major attacks, we need to stand together in condemning the destruction of public and private property.  We thank our partners who have joined the Department in conveying a message, calling for the protection of schools.  The Sector is embarking on an integrated campaign to involve school governing bodies, law enforcement agencies, teacher unions, parents, and civil society to ensure that we take a strong position to love and protect our schools.

Amongst the many strategies agreed upon during our CEM meeting, was on mobilising learners, educators, SGBs, teacher unions, community and traditional leaders, including faith-based communities, to safeguard schools.

As a priority, we agreed on executive roadshows, paying special attention to identified hotspot areas; and to normalise learning environments, once schools reopen.

Early Childhood Development (ECD) Function Shift

On 30 June 2021, His Excellency, the President of the Republic of South Africa, Mr Cyril Ramaphosa, signed the National Proclamation to effect the Early Childhood Development (ECD) function shift from the Department of Social Development (DSD) to the Department of Basic Education (DBE).  The signed Proclamation was gazetted the same day.  This was a critical milestone in the function shift process, that will enable the DBE and the DSD to kick-start the planning processes, to ensure that the function is shifted on 01 April 2022.

By the way, a Proclamation is a legal document that the President or Premier signs; and in the case of ECD, it will shift the responsibility of ECD, as outlined in Chapters 5 and 6 of the Children’s Act from the Minister or MEC of Social Development to the Minister or MEC of Basic Education.  This will mean that the DBE will become responsible for everything that DSD was responsible for, in terms of delivering, funding, registering, monitoring and supporting the ECD sector.  Although the Proclamation has been signed now, it will only take effect from 01 April 2022.  The intention of the DBE, is to ensure a smooth transition, and to limit any unnecessary interruption in support to the ECD sector.

In the coming months, the DBE and DSD will continue with their planning and preparation for the ECD function shift.  During this year, the different Branches within DBE, will be preparing to deliver the ECD function, as well as to prepare and develop the systems that are required for delivering the ECD function effectively.  An implementation plan is currently being developed; and we will be workshopping the plan with the ECD sector throughout the year.

The National Education Collaboration Trust (NECT) will be supporting the Department with these engagements; and will collaborate with the forums and structures already in existence to make sure that all stakeholders are given an opportunity to engage with the plans.

The DBE recognises the important work that has been taking place in the Sector, and has no intention to reinvent the wheel.  The intention is to come alongside stakeholders and to create an enabling environment to support and enhance what they have been doing.

The Departments will also ensure that there is no interruption to service delivery through this transition process.  As Departments, we see this as a significant opportunity to improve access to quality early learning and to enhance the ECD delivery system to better serve the children of South Africa.

On May / June Matric Examinations

The 2021 May / June examination is the second examination opportunity that is offered to candidates who wrote the November 2020 examinations; and is also an examination for adult candidates sitting for matric examinations.  The writing of this examination commenced on Wednesday, 26 May 2021, and concluded on Wednesday, 07 July 2021.

A total of two hundred and forty nine thousand, eight hundred and fifty one(249 851) candidates enrolled to write this examination.  This included both the National Senior Certificate and Senior Certificate candidates.  One hundred and six thousand, seven hundred and eleven (106 711) of these candidates, were National Senior Certificate candidates; and one hundred and forty three thousand, one hundred and forty (143 140) of these candidates, were Senior Certificate candidates.  This examination was conducted under strict COVID-19 protocols and they were followed to the latter.

The DBE and the Provincial Education Departments (PEDs) monitored the writing of the May / June 2021 Grade 12 examination.  The writing of the examination was successfully concluded without any major disruptions. With the early closure of schools on 30 June 2021, due to the move to adjusted Alert Level 4, school principals were requested to administer the examination until its conclusion.

The marking of the May / June 2021 Grade 12 examination, commenced on 08 July 2021, and concluded on Monday, 19 July 2021.  A total of seven hundred and seventy two thousand, four hundred and four (772 404) scripts had to be marked; and a total of nine thousand, three hundred and twenty three (9 323) markers were utilised for the marking across the fifty four (54) marking centres.  Even in this instance, COVID-19 health protocols were strictly adhered to. Despite the protest actions and the looting in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, the marking was successfully completed; and the capturing of marks is currently in progress.

The DBE will complete the processing of all candidate data for the Umalusi standardisation meeting of 06 August 2021; and the results will be released to candidates on 24 August 2021.  The NSC candidates, who were not successful in this May / June examination, can register to write the November 2021 NSC examination.

On School Calendars

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused serious disruptions in the Sector; and our plans have not always gone as we intended.  This has however, not deterred us from continuing to plan, as we are confident that at some point, we will find a way to return to normal business.  Earlier this year, we published the school calendar for 2022.  As usual, we followed the necessary steps that involve public participation to obtain input.

Now, the proposed school calendar for 2023 has been gazetted for public comment.  It has been published on all the DBE platforms.  A staggered calendar is proposed – one for coastal provinces, and another for inland provinces.  As I said, your inputs are important; and we urge you to go through the proposed 2023 school calendar, and submit your comments in writing.  The details are available on the draft calendar itself.

National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP)

The COVID-19 essentials, such as face masks, gloves, disposable aprons, as well as cleaning and sanitation material, have and continue to be provided to food handlers, as well as for kitchens and storage facilities.

Plans are in place to continue providing feeding to learners not yet in school, using different options, including staggered feeding at school, cooked food collected at school – food parcels collected at school, as well as parcels collected at collection points other than school.  We continue to call on parents and members of the community to support the learners, who benefit from the school nutrition programme to get their meals; whether they are back in school, or not.  Learners not attending, can approach the nearest school to collect their meals or food parcels.

As a Sector, we have a lot of work to do, but we are up to the task.  It will get better if all our partners and stakeholders come on board.