Parliament’s Portfolio Basic Education Committee will travel to a number of schools across the country this week to assess their readiness for the 2021 school year.
The inspection visits will be carried out in key provinces such as Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape, with a focus on the distribution of personal protective equipment and its availability for teachers and students.
As part of the visits, the committee will also meet with key stakeholders, including the Department of Basic Education, senior and district officials, trade unions, school governing bodies and the school leaders association.
In an official gazette published last week, the Minister for Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, indicated that student returns will be staggered, with private students being allowed to return to school two weeks earlier than their public school counterparts.
As a result, private sector schools were allowed to return from Monday (February 1), while public sector schools are not due to reopen until February 15.
Education experts have already warned that the late school calendar in 2021, combined with the loss of class time in 2020, is likely to have a significant impact on South African students.
In a briefing to parliament on January 20, the Director-General of the Ministry of Education, Mathanzima Mweli, said that younger students are particularly at risk of forgetting the skills and knowledge acquired in school if they stop studying for long periods of time.
“This creates a challenge for ‘accumulated gaps’ as they move into other classes,” he said.
At the other end of the scale, Mweli said the department was concerned about the 12th grade cohort of 2021 who lost significant class time as 11th grade students in 2020.
“We narrowed down the curriculum through a process called ‘trimming’, which means that these students were not exposed to the full curriculum. In the Matura, however, they are tested for the full content of grades 10, 11 and 12.
“The further delay in teaching this year is an enormous burden on the system, as we now not only have to catch up on the content of the 12th grade, but also the content of the 11th grade, which was lost last year.”
“It will be extremely difficult for the education system to make up for the learning losses.”
In addition, a survey Of 7,440 schools in South Africa, it appears that the majority are not yet ready to start learning again on February 15.
The survey, presented by five teacher and education unions, was conducted on January 18 and drew responses from schools across the country. It assessed the material willingness of schools to reopen for the new school year on January 27th, which was later changed to the new starting date of February 15th.
The availability of materials is defined as sufficient supply of hand and surface santisers as well as face masks in order to comply with official regulations.
According to the results of the survey, at least 40% of schools lack adequate care, while 53% are unsure that they can effectively follow government protocols on santising and social distancing.
At the national level, responses from schools in the Western Cape show that they are best equipped to welcome learners back, but there are still shortcomings in certain areas, such as the supply of masks. KwaZulu-Natal schools are the least prepared.
Read: Schools Not Ready To Open: Poll