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Department's plans for staggered schooling gets the thumbs up

The department of basic education has proposed various ways in which schools can be reopened after lockdown.
The department of basic education has proposed various ways in which schools can be reopened after lockdown.
Image: SAMORN TARAPAN/123rf.com

Education stakeholders have welcomed the basic education department's proposals to rearrange the school timetable so that different grades could be taught on alternate days or on alternate weeks.

A third option on the cards is getting overcrowded schools to introduce a “platoon” system, where some grades are taught in the morning until midday and others in the afternoon.

Paul Colditz, CEO of the Federation of Governing Bodies of SA Schools (Fedsas), said they had been pleading with basic education minister Angie Motshekga to “leave it in the hands of the local community to decide what is best for their particular community”.

“The governing body, principal and teachers must consult parents on what option is feasible, attainable and possible in a particular community, whatever the options may be,” he said.

There must not be a limited number of options but rather a range of options must be given as a framework, he said.

“Depending on the circumstances of that particular community, it may be able to develop another option — providing that washing of hands, sanitisation and social distancing were complied with.

“There must also be compliance with the new calendar that must be published. The curriculum must be covered and all indications are it’s going to be a trimmed curriculum.”

Motshekga “can’t just send off the silver bullet and say everybody must do exactly as told”, said Colditz.

“It must be left to the creativity, initiative and autonomy of teachers to determine what is necessary in their classrooms within a framework of a trimmed curriculum.”

Welcoming the proposals, Ben Machipi, general secretary of the Professional Educators Union (PEU), said principals and schools must be given the autonomy to organise their timetable and must not be dictated to by district officials.

“There are schools that have the infrastructure that will allow them to have all grades attending daily. There must be monitoring by district managers to make sure schools stick to the plan,” he said.

The three options were discussed by the department's director-general Mathanzima Mweli during a virtual meeting with teacher associations on Saturday and governing body associations and a principals' association on Sunday.

The bodies that participated in Sunday’s meeting included Fedsas, the Governing Body Foundation (GBF), the National Association of School Governing Bodies (NASGB) and the South African Principals' Association (Sapa).

During his presentation on the restructuring of schooling, Mweli said schools must operate at 50% or less of their capacity.

Other “enabling conditions” must include:

  • meeting health, safety and distancing requirements;
  • equitable allocation of time for all learners to save the academic year;
  • equitable allocation of periods/time for teachers to cover the scope of the curriculum; and
  • keeping all curriculum enrichment programmes on hold until further notice.

Discussing the principles of timetable construction, Mweli said they needed to take into account departmental regulations, the type and size of school, the amount of time available, and the principles of justice and variety.

A member who attended the meeting said that he was “quite encouraged because he [Mweli] did emphasise that this would be an opportunity for school principals to make choices with governing bodies and come up with the best plan for their school because the timetable is a governing body function”.

Dr Faith Kumalo, the department's chief director for school health, did a presentation on comorbidities affecting teachers and how they planned to address this issue. The department has received guidance from the national health department on the risk factors for severe Covid-19.

Among the risk factors mentioned in a document that the department has been sending out to stakeholders are:

  • moderate to severe hypertension;
  • congestive cardiac failure;
  • moderate to severe asthma;
  • chronic kidney disease;
  • severe obesity; and
  • third trimester pregnancy.

The member said Kumalo had mentioned that teachers who were 60 or older and were still healthy would not be considered a high risk and could report for duty.

Matakanye Matakanye, general secretary of NASGB, declined to comment on the presentations. He said he would only do so after they had been tabled by the minister.

Motshekga will discuss the department's plans for the reopening of schools on Tuesday.