Concerns raised over dept's 'draft post Covid-19 lockdown recovery plan'

19 April 2020 - 00:00 By PREGA GOVENDER
The department has released it's post Covid-19 recovery plan.
The department has released it's post Covid-19 recovery plan.
Image: Gallo Images/Thinkstock

Changing seating plans so that pupils’ chairs are at least 1.5m apart and a ban on the sharing of desks are among the measures the department of basic education is proposing when schools reopen.

Teachers and pupils will also be strongly discouraged from hugging, shaking hands or having any other “direct contact” with others.

The proposals, designed to comply with the department of health’s directive on physical distancing, are contained in the basic education department’s “draft post Covid-19 lockdown recovery plan”, which was discussed with teacher unions and governing body associations this week.

“These may be the most challenging conditions for provincial education departments to implement as our classrooms are not always able to accommodate the requirements in terms of social distancing,” the document states.

It says that provincial education departments “will have to apply their minds to what would be the best arrangement”.

In the document, the department poses the question on how social distancing is going to be implemented in classrooms.

It paints two scenarios, which include a 1m social distance being acceptable if it is applied with strict precautionary measures such as temperature checking, face masks, gloves and sanitisers.

The other scenario is that if the 1.5m social distance is non-negotiable, additional classrooms will be required.

This could mean using underutilised spaces in schools and at other schools and community centres, as well as procuring mobile classrooms and “operating schools in shifts”.

in numbers

• 12.4 million - The number of pupils attending public schools last year

• 407,000 - The number of teachers at public schools last year

Teacher unions and governing body associations this week expressed concern over the issue of social distancing at schools.

Basil Manuel, executive director of the National Professional Teachers Organisation of SA, questioned how social distancing will work, especially at overcrowded schools. 

“We have already expressed serious concerns to the department about how are we going to manage social distancing,” he said, adding that he believes it “is not going to happen”.

Matakanye Matakanye, general secretary of the National Association of School Governing Bodies, said he had raised the issue of social distancing very strongly at this week’s meeting.

“We are saying that parents and governing body members must be trained to observe, monitor and supervise learners at schools to ensure they comply with social distancing,” Matakanye said.

He said parents could, for example, observe whether pupils were keeping a safe distance from each other when visiting the toilets at school.

“There may be social distancing in the classroom because the teacher is there, but what happens when the child goes to play outside or visit the toilet?"

David de Korte, national president of the South African Principals’ Association, representing 3,000 heads of schools, said: “The reality is that social distancing is going to be almost impossible in most of our schools.”

He said the association had decided that large gatherings such as school assemblies will not take place for the foreseeable future.

“We are proposing that every single classroom has hand sanitisers and that learners sanitise when they enter the school premises and classrooms,” he said, adding that teachers will wipe down desks with cleaning agents.

In a bid to address the issue of social distancing, the department of basic education is proposing that schools reopen on a phased basis, with matrics and grade 7s starting on May 6 if the lockdown is lifted on April 30.

- They will be followed by grades 11 and 6 (May 20);

- grades 10 and 5 (June 3);

- grades 9 and 4 (June 17);

- grades 8 and 3 (July 1);

- grades 2 and 1 (July 8) and

- grade R (July 15).