'All students must get fair chance to finish academic year': Buti Manamela
Deputy higher education minister Buti Manamela says institutions of higher learning will forge ahead with plans to operate at 33% capacity to limit the spread of Covid-19 under level 3 of the lockdown.
Manamela was speaking on radio 702 on Wednesday. He said engagements with various stakeholders had proven difficult as some did not buy into the idea of reopening, citing issues of inequality and accessibility.
“Our engagements have been as extensive as possible, we had to sit in long meetings. In some instances, we had to agree to disagree,” he said.
Crawford College in Sandton, like many other private schools across South Africa, reopened their doors to grade 7 and 12 pupils on June 1 2020. This comes after the department of basic education backtracked on their decision to have all grade 7 and 12 pupils in SA back in school this week.Covid-19 symptom screenings, sanitisers and social distancing enforcement will now be part of the school's daily operation.
There were concerns that some students would be left behind but Manamela said the 27 weeks left of the academic year had to be completed while saving lives was also at the top of the ministry’s agenda.
He said the 33% of students allowed back on campus included final-year students who were unable to complete the academic year off campus and students who could not make use of e-learning.
Manamela said the decision to reopen institutions was guided by the department of health which recommend the use of personal protective equipment, deep cleaning and proper sanitisation.
While institutions had some autonomy, Manamela said they would be checked for compliance with numbers and measures to limit the spread of the virus.
“We have been guided by the primacy of saving lives and the department of health. We won't allow a situation where institutions want to play around with numbers of students that need to return.”
Students returning to campus were expected to be screened and institutions were also expected to provide quarantine facilities. He said no institution would be allowed to open unless it met all the health and safety standards.
While there was anxiety and uncertainty, Manamela assured students they would be given a fair chance to complete the academic year. He added that the ministry anticipated the situation would return to normal in the months to come.
“We are hoping that by October, we would have returned to normality, under level 1 ... all students have to be given a fair opportunity for them to complete the academic year,” he said.
The ministry acknowledged that the use of e-learning and technology as a result of the pandemic had exposed high levels of inequality. "The crisis reveals what we already know, inequalities,” said Manamela who said steps would be taken to address these.