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Angie to announce revised plan today

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Some unions are concerned this is still risky because Covid-19 infections are continuing to increase.

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Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga will on Sunday elaborate on schools’ readiness to phase in extra grades on Monday as some unions are concerned this is still risky because Covid-19 infections are continuing to increase.

Expressing concern is the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) which said even with grades 7 and 12 returning, many schools struggled with water, ablution facilities and space to exercise social distancing.

The minister, together with various education MECs, will hold a press briefing at 4pm in Pretoria.

“The minister will also elaborate on the revised plans regarding the return of other grades to school,” read a statement from the department.

The department had this week reversed its decision to allow grades R, 1, 2, 3, 6, 10 and 11 to return to class. Only grades R, 6 and 11 will now return tomorrow.

Sadtu’s national executive committee said in a statement yesterday it was “extremely disappointed” by the move to reintroduce extra classes as many schools were still experiencing infrastructural challenges.

“Our experience is that many schools still require the basic needs such as water and ablution facilities, and the delay in phasing in more grades would have allowed the Department of Basic Education (DBE) to put in place a plan to resolve and respond to these challenges,” said Sadtu.

The union called on the department to reconsider its decision to phase in Grade R pupils who would require more space and more teaching aids that must be constantly sanitised.

“The learners learn through play, experimentation and touching and this might compromise their safety and that of the teachers and caregivers. We urge the DBE to reconsider its position,” said Sadtu.

Spokesperson Nomusa Cembi said the union would engage with the department about Grade R as the Covid-19 “curve is increasing”.

“We thought the department would bring in more classes once we are satisfied about grade 7 and 12 compliance as there are still schools that opened for grade 7 and 12 that still do not have water.

“We are also worried about the issue of space, because we found that there are schools where you found that Grade 7 or Grade 12 have occupied the whole school while we have not seen mobile classrooms being brought in to ensure social distancing,” said Cembi.

Already, KwaZulu-Natal’s department had earlier this month released a circular informing schools that only grades 6 and 11 would be allowed to resume classes tomorrow, while Grade R pupils would “temporarily remain at home and await further advice”.

Provincial education spokesperson Kwazi Mthethwa sent a video clip to Independent Media where education MEC Kwazi Mshengu was saying he had informed Motshekga about the province’s decision to delay phasing in Grade R as the province had a large pupil population.

“Given the challenges that we continue to face in our schools relating to particularly water and now the rise of infection, we think it would be better if we can be allowed to only bring grades 6 and 11 on Monday, and settle with them and, a week or two later, we then bring in Grade R so that we comply with the directives of the minister,” said Mshengu.

National Teachers’ Union president Alan Thompson said he was not happy with extra grades being added.

“We are failing to get the rationale behind reopening these other grades (R, 6 and 11) as we have made a call that even for Grade 12 (and Grade 7) we need to rest a bit because the rate of infection now is too high and it is too risky to send children to school,” said Thompson.

However, the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools’ chief executive Paul Colditz said children were safer at school from Covid-19.

“They (schools under his organisation) are ready as they have all done a lot of preparations to receive the learners.

“It is better for the children to be at school than at home at this stage in all respects, and that is what the medical experts are saying. They are saying this very strongly. Irrespective of how many grades return at any given space there may not be more than 50 percent of children at school.”

Colditz’s claim was backed by the SA Onderwysunie executive director Chris Klopper, who said “the majority of schools are ready”.

“They will be able to receive the Grade Rs, grade 6 and 11. Those schools that are not ready are not entitled to start because of the fact that there are non-compliance and requirements in terms of the PPE” (personal protective equipment).

When asked how he concluded that the majority of schools were ready when most of them were in rural and township areas, he said “all unions together had a survey, and the indication is that the majority of schools are ready”.

Basic Education spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga had not yet responded to questions sent to him and he did not answer his phone.

Sunday Independent