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School reopening: SGB body, unions call for new directions to be gazetted as confusion reigns

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School reopening: SGB body, unions call for new directions to be gazetted as confusion reigns

Basic Education Minister, Angie Motshekga

29th July 2020

By: News24Wire

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The future of schools and what happens beyond the four-week break is still causing confusion, unions and school governing bodies say. 

The Department of Basic Education is yet to gazette updated regulations and school calendar dates after schools had to close again due to concerns about rising coronavirus Covid-19 infections. 

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Last Thursday, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that Cabinet had decided public schools should stop on-site teaching from 27 July until 24 August. 

The Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools (Fedsas) said it was still waiting for the department to issue new regulations before deciding on a plan of action to address its concerns.

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Fedsas chief executive Paul Colditz told News24 on Wednesday that the department, both at national and provincial levels, was "slow" in its response to issues surrounding school closures.

Colditz said the biggest concerns the SGB association had, were related to the school nutrition programme and pupils missing out on learning because they did not have access to the internet or the necessary electronic devices. 

"It is extremely confusing, we have had no communication from the department with regards to updated directions or [the] amended school calendar. It is confusing for us and our members. In terms of the law, as I have said, the position is that schools are supposed to be open, at least, for those grades that were supposed to have returned by now," he said.

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The Federation of Governing Bodies of SA schools is still awaiting directions from the Basic Education Department on an amended school calendar. Some schools have stated that the school calendar issued by Motshekga on June 7 gives them a right to ...

Although the department announced that the nutrition programme would continue during the break and that beneficiaries could access their meals from their nearest schools, Colditz said there were more questions than answers and that schools themselves were in limbo.

He said the uncertainty was also mostly affecting pupils psychologically and emotionally.

"The effect on school nutrition; schools are in limbo; [the] president announced that the school nutrition programme must continue but if the majority of teachers are not at school, it's not quite clear how exactly this will happen.

"It has also been said that children must go to the nearest schools, not necessarily their own school and we don't know how many children will be able to get there and how do they get there if they live far away from school. Do they get there by foot, by taxi?" Colditz asked.

He said the department needed to speedily give clarity on what would happen on 24 August and whether all pupils would be able to return or only certain grades. In addition, he asked what would happen if the peak went beyond 24 August.

He said the department seemed to be planning on the basis of "uncertainty" and not "scientific views". 

On Monday, basic education spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said the department was still in the process of drafting and gazetting a new school calendar.

Mhlanga could not be reached by News24 for comment on Wednesday.

According to TimesLIVE, Mhlanga said a task team had recently been approved by Cabinet and would look into the school calendar and revised directions.  

Teachers' unions, which had called for the school break amid a peak in infections, met with the department's director-general, Mathanzima Mweli, on Monday and raised similar issues to those concerning Fedsas.

According to the executive of the National Professional Teachers' Organisation of South Africa, Basil Manuel, the directions should be published by Thursday. 

Manuel said there was confusion and that the purpose of the general meeting with Mweli was to seek clarity.

"The meeting was to tick all the boxes, and ensure there is a greater understanding in terms of when we get to the 24th [of August]. The provinces must have ensured that all schools are ready for the children and now all the children are going to be back because the staggered thing would have finished by the end of the holidays," he said. 

Mhlanga's comment will be added once it is received.

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