KZN schools ready to open, but some pupils won’t be in class on the first day

02 February 2021 - 15:24 By suthentira govender
KwaZulu-Natal premier Sihle Zikalala says schools in the province are ready to open on February 15.
KwaZulu-Natal premier Sihle Zikalala says schools in the province are ready to open on February 15.
Image: 123rf

Platooning and alternate days and weeks are on the cards for many KwaZulu-Natal pupils when schools open on February 15.

Speaking about the readiness of schools on Tuesday, premier Sihle Zikalala told journalists timetabling options would not change drastically from last year’s options.

“Some schools will still need to alternate days to accommodate all pupils while observing social distancing. The timetabling options will include alternating weeks, platooning, alternating days, hybridisation and normal timetabling,” he said.

“The choice of the timetabling option will be determined by the demand for classroom space and the consumption. The province is fully aware that most schools will not be able to accommodate all pupils on February 15 because of social distancing and other Covid-19 safety requirements.

“With permission from the minister of basic education, the province will communicate the dates for a staggered return of learners to schools before February 15.” 

Zikalala said the provincial education department had made “good progress” to ensure all the Covid-19 essentials are delivered to schools before the arrival of pupils.

“This includes the provision of water and sanitation facilities. There is confirmation that all schools will have the required Covid-19 essentials when pupils arrive and this will include cloth masks for teachers and pupils,” he said.

“Out of 2,771,015 pupils expected to be admitted by schools in 2021, the province has already admitted 2,769,212, which is 99.93%. Pupil admissions have been completed in most grades. The unplaced pupils are mainly in grades 1 and 8. This is understood because these are entry grades for the foundation and secondary phases.

“To help parents whose children have not yet been admitted, districts have formed admission committees which will intervene in cases where pupils don’t find space. The department also expects ‘walk ins’ because of factors such as movement of parents from one location to another.”

Zikalala said schools would not run short of water because tanks were installed in schools where there is no running water.

“There are 18,455 water tanks across the province.”

He said 96.4% of textbooks had been delivered to schools, with the remaining 3.6% is expected to be delivered by the end of this week.

According to Zikalala 5,460 schools have been approved to be part of school nutrition programmes.

Steady decline in infections

Regarding Covid-19 infections in the province, the premier said there has been a decline in the number of new cases weekly.

“KwaZulu-Natal is the second-highest countrywide in terms of laboratory confirmed cases. The overall percentage change in the number of new cases between week three (January 17-23) and week four (January 24-30) amounted to a decline of 51%.

“The actual number of cases was 22,608 (week three) and 11,099 (week four).

"Over the past week, the most cases received was 2,079, which was on January 26. The average number of cases recorded daily was 1,777 cases a day.

“Due to its population size, among other factors, eThekwini district has continued to record the most new cases daily. However, the proportion of daily cases has declined to below 40%.”

He said the province was concerned about the number of deaths reported daily.

“The actual number of deaths in week three (January 17-23) was 796, and 265 for week four (January 24-30). The average number of deaths daily over the past two weeks was 75 deaths/day. The analysis was done using the date the person died, not the date of reporting.”

Zikalala said the number of hospital admissions had declined “along with a decrease in the number of new cases in both the public and private sectors”.

“This is in line with the incidence and positivity rates. The number of admissions started increasing steadily from December 1 and then declined from week three (January 17—23 January).

“The number of ICU patients remained constant in January.

“The province has 3,601 patients admitted in both private and public hospitals as at January 31.”

He said 67% of patients were in private hospitals.

“Of those admitted, 483 patients (13%) required intensive care services. Among those who required intensive care, 44% were being ventilated.”

Portfolio committee inspects schools for readiness

The portfolio committee on basic education visited schools in the Ixopo circuit, under the Harry Gwala district, on Tuesday to assess their readiness for the 2021 academic year.

Committee members, who were in Gauteng on Monday, visited the Daniel Mzamo Special School on Tuesday. Officially opened in Highflats in 2019, the school accommodates pupils with disabilities including autism, attention deficit disorder and deafness.

Principal Mluleki Dlamini said the school is experiencing major water problems as it shares a borehole with the uMhlabashana community.

“We don’t have water at the school. The municipality sometimes delivers water, but in most cases we purchase our own,” he said.

Basic education spokesperson Jabulani Ngcobo said they are pleased to see schools in the district are prepared to welcome students again.

"We are happy with the overall preparations and readiness of  schools in the district. However, we need to ensure all the pupils admitted this year are attending classes,” he said.

Ngcobo said convincing pupils it was safe to attend school was proving to be a matter of concern.

Daniel Mzamo teacher Ayanda Xhala said staff were ready to welcome pupils back at school. 

“We have masks and sanitisers in all our classrooms. The children are screened before they enter and that is what makes the school a safe environment for them,” she said.

Xhala said her love for teaching and working with children is what brings her to school during the pandemic.

“We are preparing all our materials and themes for the year. We are also sharing ideas on how to make their learning entertaining, which is fun for us.”

At Ixopo High, principal Karen Barensche said boarding pupils are screened every morning before leaving the hostel.

Barensche said the rainy season has helped fill the school’s eight water tanks, temporarily resolving their water problem.

“We have 14 toilets which constantly need running water. Five are being renovated, but the nine available are enough.”

District director Sindi Zakuza-Njakazi said they were pleased to see the Covid-19 safety measures put in place by the schools’ management.

"The classrooms are marked for social distancing. Classes have been provided with hand sanitisers and the classrooms are sanitised daily,” she said.

Committee chairperson Bongiwe Mbinqo-Gigaba said she had been shocked to learn about the water and sanitary problems at schools in the district, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Covid-19 is saying to us we need to be clean at all times, but you cannot be clean without water,” she said.

Additional reporting by Mluleki Mdletshe