Many schools in Soweto are ready to reopen

Emadwaleni High School in Orlando, Soweto, is ready for the reopening of schools next week./Thulani Mbele
Emadwaleni High School in Orlando, Soweto, is ready for the reopening of schools next week./Thulani Mbele

Trimmed grass, painted lines to observe social distancing and cleaned classrooms were the sights that greeted one in most Gauteng schools yesterday, the day meant to mark the reopening of schools.

Many of the schools in Soweto were ready to welcome pupils back. The school management teams (SMTs), teachers and non-teaching staff came out in numbers.

At Emadwaleni High School there were six classes that were prepared for the grade 12 pupils. A school official said the school was ready to resume teaching.

"We thought today we were going to welcome the pupils. We have everything that is needed for the opening. We have about 120 pupils and they will each get two masks and a soap. All our blocks have a sanitising machine. It is most unfortunate that we are dealing with an unknown pandemic and we can't say we are fully ready," he said.

The official said the SMTs and teachers that reported for duty were pre-screened.

The situation was the same at Sapebuso Primary School. The classes had already been cleaned and fumigated.

A non-teaching staff member said the cleaning of classes started on Thursday.

"They took out all the desks and chairs and thoroughly mopped the classes. This week we will be trained on how to observe social distancing.

"Our main concern at the moment is that we have a shortage of cleaners as the classes have to be cleaned twice a day," she said.

A school official at Seana-Marena High School said all the teachers reported for duty as they were under the impression that they would start teaching.

"We have everything in order, unfortunately pupils did not pitch up," she said.

Yesterday, minister of basic education Angie Motshekga announced that grade 12 and grade 7 pupils will return to school on Monday next week.

Motshekga said she was forced to postpone the reopening of schools because most schools were not ready.

She said on Saturday the Council of Education Ministers (CEM) received three critical reports - the first on the state of readiness from a research consortium co-ordinated by the National Education Collaboration Trust (NECT); the second on the state of delivery of water tanks and water supply by Rand Water; and the third a technical report from the heads of education departments committee on the state of readiness for the phased-in reopening of schools.

"Based on these reports, it became clear that the sector was at different levels of readiness. In the main, it was for this reason that the CEM determined that the sector requires more time to map out its state of readiness for school reopening, in order to comply with the health and safety standards on Covid-19. CEM resolved that," Motshekga said.

Motshekga said provinces should finalise all their outstanding deliveries of personal protective equipment (PPE) to schools, and the provision of outstanding water and sanitation products.

"The ongoing cleaning of schools should be finalised within the first week of June. All teachers and support staff should be inducted and orientated for the new environment brought about by the Covid-19. In return, the teachers should induct, orientate and counsel the learners, who have already arrived at the schools, to deal with the new Covid-19 environments," Motshekga said.

Motshekga said the CEM decisions have been shared with teacher unions, national school governing body associations, the principals' association, NGOs responsible for pupils with special needs, assessment bodies, associations of independent schools and other stakeholders.

She said parents and guardians must not send pupils to school if the pupils show any Covid-19 symptoms.

Nomzamo Davila, 47, the mother of a grade 6 pupil, said it was worrying that children were going back to school during winter.

"This is a time when most children will suffer from colds and flu," she said.

"It could have been better if the reopening was in September ... at least when it is starting to be warm."

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