#CoronavirusSA: Motshekga says that department has to balance saving lives and protecting the 2020 academic year

#CoronavirusSA: Motshekga says that department has to balance saving lives and protecting the 2020 academic yearMinister of Basic Education says that Covid-19 has disrupted the academic year and a new schooling calendar is being proposed. (Photo credit: SA government twitter)

As higher education turns to technology to continue, basic education projects the return of learners to school from June.

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Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga has announced that Grade 7 and 12 learners may return to school on June 1, 2020.

Motshekga was speaking at a media briefing together with the Minister of Higher Education Dr Blade Nzimande on the education sector plans on the academic year as the country battles with the coronavirus.

Motshekga says that the department will start working from Monday in order to start preparations such as organising masks for learners and teachers, sanitising schools and determining which schools need to be supplied with water.

“One principle guiding us was lowering the infection rate, ensuring safety but balance it against protecting lives. At all times during the consultations, we have started with the safety of our learners, teachers and employees. We made safety a priority,” Motshekga says.

She says that the schooling calendar is not yet finalised as the date for grade 7 and matrics is still being proposed and cabinet still has to approve it.

The minister says that the impact of COVID-19 will be felt for a long time to come and has changed the exam timetable.

“We have taken a decision to postpone the May/June Matric rewrite examinations. The exams were due to be written by more than three hundred and fifty thousand (350 000), mainly part-time candidates, from the 04 May and conclude on 26 June 2020,” she says.

The department estimates that one million and one-hundred thousand candidates will sit for the end-of-year matric examinations, which includes the Amended Senior Certificate and National Senior Certificate.

The department has decided that teachers will return to schools on May 18, 2020.

Motshekga says that teachers with underlying conditions will find a new workstream or programme. She adds that parents need to declare if their child has an underlying condition like asthma and make arrangements with the department.

She says that some grades may return to school in September.

Higher education keeps its doors closed but goes online

Nzimande says that contact classes at universities will not resume with campus-based academic in all Universities and TVET Colleges, both public and private, during the Level Four 4 of the lockdown period.

“The risks of a return to normal campus-based activity for thousands of students and staff are simply too great and cannot function successfully outside of the national context of a general lockdown. Universities and TVET Colleges do not operate in a vacuum, but in a historically-specific context,” the minister says.

However, final year medical students are excluded from these restrictions.

“The only exception will be the controlled return of final year clinical training medical students, under strict conditions, to also directly assist with the health management campaign of the Department of Health,” says Nzimande.

The minister says that students who fall under the National Student Financial Aid Scheme will be provided with electronic devices and data for online learning.

In the eventuality of students returning to campuses, the minister says that the department will place protocols for the maintenance of physical distance, provide hand sanitisers and protective masks and will do regular deep cleaning of facilities.

“In addition, reopening will entail the 360 screening or testing of staff and students, with environmental cleaning of campuses and residences. We are also identifying sites for quarantine facilities in or near our institutions as may be required. We will also be providing mental health support and other forms of support necessary for staff and students throughout,” he says.

Both departments say that they have been in consultation with different stakeholders such as unions, the national department of health, non-goverment organisations and student affiliations and academics.

Nzimande says that there is a possibility of the academic year being rolled over to 2021 but that can only be determined by the infection rate of the virus.

“The 2020 academic year will be re-organised to enable all our institutions and their students to complete academic requirements, with the prospects of extending into early 2021 depending on the epidemiology and impact of the COVID-19 pandemic threat.”- Health-e News