Angie Motshekga must show leadership

Minister Angie Motshekga.
Minister Angie Motshekga.
Image: Thapelo Morebudi/The Sunday Times

Today, minister of basic education Angie Motshekga is expected to brief the media and the country on her department's plans to reopen schools in the coming few weeks.

According to our sister paper the Sunday Times yesterday, the latest plan by Motshekga involves more than 5,000 schools in areas regarded as Covid-19 hotspots not reopening with the rest next month.

These are schools in the Johannesburg and Ekurhuleni areas in Gauteng, Buffalo City and Nelson Mandela Bay in the Eastern Cape, Cape Town, eThekwini and Mangaung in the Free State.

Internal documents seen by the paper also suggest that alternative plans be made for thousands of matriculants, such as placing them in grade 12 special camps in order to help them catch up on lost learning time.

Government expects to reopen schools in a staggered manner from June 1.

The latest plan comes after wide-spread rejection of the department's initial and ambitious proposal to reopen all schools under strict hygiene and screening regulations this month.

It also appears in contrast to announcements by Gauteng and the Western Cape departments which declared last week that they were ready to open.

The latest proposal is surely plausible.

It suggests that contrary to some contested views, schools are in fact like any other places of congregation, potentially risk areas not only for children but teachers and officials.

However, parts of the plan currently in the public domain do not necessarily shed light on how government plans to ensure safe schools in areas not deemed as hotspots.

Such areas, including some rural parts of the country, are arguably equally vulnerable to the pandemic.

Their vulnerability stems not from rapidly rising numbers per se, but from their limited ability to adhere to regulations because of challenges with basic infrastructure and resources such as water.

We therefore expect Motshekga to outline today what government will do to ensure that all schools are not viral nodes in our communities.

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