Eastern Cape schools to only open for grades 3, 6 and 11 at the end of July

The Eastern Cape department of education says schools will not open for three grades on Monday, as was announced by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga last week. 

Grades R, 6 and 11 returned to school on Monday after the return of grades 7 and 12, which went back to school on June 8. 

But on Sunday, the Eastern Cape education department’s superintendent-general, Themba Konjane, issued an instruction that grades 3, 6, 11 and certain groups of learners in special needs schools will only return to school on July 20. 

In the instruction, which was sent to all principals, school governing bodies and teacher unions, Konjane said this was made necessary by the increase in the number of Covid-19 cases. Decisions regarding schools will be reviewed as the situation changes. 

“The increase in the number of infections has again necessitated the education sector to review its plans for the phasing in of grades,” said Kojane in the instruction. 

As of Sunday, the Eastern Cape had 34 161 Covid-19 cases and 490 deaths. Eight teachers, three learners and four non-teaching staff members have died in the province. 

Last week the Daily Dispatch reported that Kojane had written to Motshekga asking that the province’s schools be allowed to open only to grade 12 learners, and that the other grades return in August. This move would include the grade 7 learners, who are already meant to be at school.

The provincial department said it made this request because it feared it would not be able to manage the cases of Covid-19 in its schools when many learners returned. If they came back in August this would give the department time to plan properly. 

In a statement on Sunday, the MEC for education, Fundile Gade, said the decision to deviate from the national directive was for the safety of learners and teachers and the quality of teaching and learning.

“The attitude of the leadership of both the provincial government and its administration is that  we are more managing the infections in our institutions of learning than managing the pedagogy of teaching and learning as our core mandate as a sector,” said Gade. 

“Whilst we have come to realise that Covid-19 is not just a matter of the department of health, but requires our collective wisdom as the entire government of the EC, the recent  developments of infections of our teachers, non-teaching staff and learners requires critical thinking and a detour from those bestowed with a responsibility to lead the populace of this province.” 

In a Government Gazette last month, Motshekga said grades R, 1, 2 , 3, 6, 10, 11 and certain groups in schools for children with special needs would open on Monday. 

But in a statement on Thursday afternoon, the department of basic education said that after a meeting of the Council of Ministers and after “careful consideration”, it was decided that for now only three grades would return.The council comprises the minister, deputy minister, director general and all MECs and heads of departments. 

The department said the meeting had considered a number of documents presented to it. These included reports that looked at how to register and support learners with comorbidities; the turnaround time for dealing with comorbidities, examinations and assessment in a Covid-19 environment; and registering and supporting learners whose parents elect to keep them at home, but are not not registered for home education.  

The gazette also said that grades 4, 5, 8, 9 and some groups of learners from schools of special education needs would open on August 3.

But the Eastern Cape has said that grades 4, 9 and 10 as well as other groups of learners from special education schools will return on July 27 — while grades 5, 8 and other learners with special education needs will go back on August 3. Classes for grades 1, 2 and grade 1 for learners with severe intellectual disabilities would start on August 10 and grade R and grade R for schools of learners with severe intellectual disabilities on August 17. 

At a press briefing on Sunday, Motshekga said provinces that were not ready for schools to open for grade R would be given until the end of July to do so. Already the Northern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo have said they are not prepared for the return of grade R on Monday.

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Bongekile Macupe
Bongekile Macupe is an education reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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