SCHOOL PLAN | One step forward, two steps back

One of the biggest problems in Eastern Cape schools has been access to proper water and sanitation.
One of the biggest problems in Eastern Cape schools has been access to proper water and sanitation.
Image: Gallo Images/ IStock

Eastern Cape pupils and parents have some idea of what awaits them when thousands of children return to school next month, although there are still many unanswered questions.

What is clear is that there will be no assistance for 65,851 pupils who have to rely on the scholar transport system because the tender process had not been completed before Covid-19 reached SA shores.

What is unclear is how social distancing in schools will be managed.

In a virtual Bhisho portfolio committee meeting on Thursday, education officials said a “booklet” and posters setting out social distancing measures would be issued.

However, no further information on this was provided at the meeting.

However, the issue of personal protective equipment (PPE) appears to have been finalised. The equipment is expected to arrive at schools in the province on Sunday.  

When Grade 12 and Grade 7 pupils — the two Covid-19 guinea pig groups — return to school on June 1 they will find:

  • Two reusable cloth masks per pupil and per teacher (one-off);  
  • A digital thermometer scanner for every 100 pupils;
  • One liquid soap dispenser per classroom/office;
  • Germ-killing liquid soap — 25 litres per 1,000 pupils per week at each school;
  • One hand sanitiser per classroom/office
  • Two plastic visors per teacher;
  • Two aprons per cleaner;
  • Disinfectants — 25l for every 1,000 pupils per week;
  • Biohazard bag —  one per 1,000 pupils per day;
  • 30 biohazard bin liners per school per day; and
  • A pair of heavy-duty gloves per cleaner per day.

A report presented to the portfolio committee by education superintendent-general Themba Kojana proposes more than 1,200 Eastern Cape teachers aged 60 and older will be required to sign a declaration stating whether they have underlying illnesses or not.

If they do, these teachers will have to work from home.

Those who do not have underlying illnesses but are 60 or older will be required to sign the form declaring they are 60 and “regarded as a high-risk employees”.

The reopening of schools was a hotbed of contention throughout the meeting.

UDM MPL Mncedisi Filtane said the reopening was a recipe for disaster, even describing it as a step towards “genocide”. 

Filtane said: “The department knows it's not ready to open schools and yet they come here and make presentations as though they are ready.

“Has the department satisfied itself that [parents] will be able to teach their children at home? I don't say [our] questions will be answered, hence I started with the conclusion that you are not ready. What on earth are you doing? Is someone planning a genocide here?”

DA MPL Kobus Botha said the plan had several shortcomings and had failed to bring on board or consult with school governing bodies.

But ANC MPL Mziwonke Ndabeni said the presentation was a “clear picture” of the provincial government's plans.

He attempted to allay parents' fears, saying “it's natural that as parents we are worried”.

Ndabeni said the department needed to concentrate its messaging on the safety of teachers and pupils.

He was  concerned about the poor internet connection in rural parts of the province and the implications  for pupils in cases which necessitated the use of the internet.

“We are ready for reopening but all the issues raised by members need to be tightened up,” he said.

MPLs grilled Kojana on the social distancing issue, particularly when other grades were phased in.

But the education SG  did not appear to have all the answers.  

“You're correct about social distancing  when the other grades start coming. We are worried. We don't know what it will mean for social distancing when we are on level 1 or 2 [of the lockdown]. But these issues have been taken into account,” Kojana said.

One of the biggest problems in Eastern Cape schools has been access to proper water and sanitation.

Responding to fears about schools without water, Kojana said he was “equally worried” in that regard.

“That is a requirement that we need to [adhere to]. It takes time for the [concrete base] to dry if you are going to put a tank on it. We are looking into all the matters and processes.”

He said the department was monitoring everything it had committed to, and the districts would send updates to the provincial government on Friday.

“There is a lot of work that is happening [in the districts],” Kojana said.

The education department had issued two tenders, one for school decontamination and one for PPE supply.

Ironically, with the concerns expressed by MPLs over internet availability, the virtual meeting was hampered by bad connectivity when the R160m tender for SIM cards, data and video,  among other services, came up for discussion.

When the patchy network forced ANC MPL and portfolio committee chair Mpumelelo Saziwa out of the meeting Ndabeni stood in for him.

He suggested the meeting be rescheduled for a committee meeting at an unannounced date.


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