Despite ongoing challenges, the Department of Basic Education (DBE) says that it is confident in its revised back to school programme which will see Grade 7 and 12 pupils returning to class on Monday 8 June.

Following a period of uncertainty and delays in procurement processes, which effectively postponed the planned reopening schools, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga has spent the past week conducting oversight visits in various provinces. Motshekga, who has been on the receiving end of fierce public criticism concerning her handling of the 2020 school calendar, has said that deliveries of personal protective equipment (PPE), water tanks and sanitizers had reached most classrooms.

Motshekga travels to ‘defiant’ Western Cape

On Friday, the minister will be visiting schools in the Western Cape. In direct contestation to Motshekga’s revised date directives, the provincial department of education decided to reopen classrooms this week. Following scathing critique on the province’s defiance and looming legal action, Western Cape Education MEC Debbie Schäfer argued that schools were reopened in line with the gazetted timetable and that her department was simply fulfilling its mandate to ensure the education of pupils.

While Motshekga goes head-to-head with the Western Cape Education Department, DBE representatives — including spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga and Deputy Minister Reginah Mhaule – continue to inspect readiness at schools in Gauteng, Limpopo, Free State and the Eastern Cape.

These oversight inspections include engaging with teachers and principals who have spent the week in orientation sessions with provincial departments. These training programmes, designed to ready school staff in line with stringent health and safety protocols, are expected to be finalised today in preparation for the return of pupils on Monday 8 June.

Last- minute engagements with SAHRC, unions

As teachers, parents and pupils prepare for the ‘new normal’, last-minute government consultations with unions and the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) aim to ease the back to school process.

Mhlanga confirmed that Motshekga had met with MECs on Thursday to discuss proposals made by the SAHRC. SAHRC commissioner Andre Gaum, who has called for regulatory amendments allowing for alternate measures for schools which will not be ready to reopen on 8 June, confirmed that Motshekga had made appropriate changes.

Gaum added that the onus now rested with provincial departments in ensuring compliance. The commissioner noted that the SAHRC would be in contact with local MECs to ascertain details regarding readiness and contingency plans.

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Presh JM Reporter

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