From back-to-school delays to online learning - here's how we got here

19 January 2021 - 15:05
By cebelihle bhengu AND Cebelihle Bhengu
Curro has moved learning online after previously saying it would continue with face-to-face lessons.
Image: Sunday World/Tshepo Kekana Curro has moved learning online after previously saying it would continue with face-to-face lessons.

Private schools Curro and Helpmekaar Kollege in Braamfontein have migrated to online learning after the basic education department announced on Friday its decision to delay schools reopening by two weeks.

The delay, which affects public and private schools, will help minimise the movement of people and ease the influx of Covid-19 patients in hospitals, said the department.

Here's a timeline of how we got here:

Department announces changes to the school calendar

Basic education department officials announced last week that schools would now reopen on February 15 to minimise the spread of Covid-19. Initially, schools were set to reopen on January 27.

Deputy basic education minister Makgabo Reginah Mhaule said the delay will help ease the pressure on the health system. The changes, she said, would also affect private schools.

“This includes private schools that have already reopened. They will need to postpone their reopening to a later date. This is to provide relief to the health system which is already struggling to cope with demands.”

Delayed reopening and its affect on financial revenue 

Mzwandile Matthews, an adviser to the department said there had been consultations with private schools' associations to get them to persuade schools to consider the new reopening date as announced by the department.

“Unfortunately we can’t direct them. We are expecting they will consider opening and closing as stated by the deputy minister,” said Matthews.

Mandla Mthembu, chair of National Alliance of Independent School Associations (Naisa) acknowledged the reason behind the delays but lamented that compliance could threaten jobs.

“We need to also consider the affect of indefinite delays to reopening independent schools given that we rely on revenue generated through school fees to keep teachers employed and supporting families. We do not want to see one more teacher retrenched. It is therefore again our appeal that government, when considering postponing the reopening of schools, apply its mind as to how we can keep independent schools going,” he said.

Mthembu said online teaching and learning was not as effective as face-to-face interactions. He also said some independent schools cannot afford such programmes.

Curro says it will continue with lessons despite changes 

Curro spokesperson Mari Lategan told TimesLIVE after the announced changes that the group would continue with face-to-face lessons.

“The choice, at this stage and as far as we are aware, is 100% that of the independent school. Nothing to the contrary has been gazetted as yet. Our schools have all made plans for fewer learners at school next week and, if need be, will keep to fewer people on campus for longer,” she said.

Lategan said the group had strict Covid-19 safety measures in place, and that grades and pupils who struggled with remote learning were given a choice.

Frank Rumboll, the executive head of Curro Rivonia, informed parents in a letter on Friday that Curro Rivonia Castle would continue with face-to-face teaching and learning until the changes have been formally gazetted.

Helpmekaar announce move to online learning

Meanwhile, after encouraging learners to come to school on Monday, Helpmekaar issued an amended notice over the weekend to parents explaining that it would move learning online from Wednesday after “developments, announcements and recommendations from Isasa and other authorities”.

“We want to be sensible in this peak period of Covid ahead and limiting people's risks,” it added. 

The school later announced in another notice to parents that the school would be closed on Monday and online learning would now start on Tuesday.

Curro makes U-turn, Lesufi sets record straight on new changes 

Curro said on Monday it would halt face-to-face learning and migrate to remote learning after consultations with the director-general of basic education, Hubert Mathanzima Mweli, and considerations of health and safety protocols.

Gauteng education MEC Panyaza Lesufi called on the postponement to be made available on the Government Gazette.

At a visit to the school by Lesufi, Helpmekaar explained that it had resumed learning before the announcement last week but said it had reviewed the changes and moved learning online.