Back to school for Eastern Cape’s grades R, 6, 11

Despite the provincial department appealing to basic education director-general Mathanzima Mweli to delay the return of all pupils except matrics until August 3, it has bowed to the wishes of the Council of Education Ministers (CEM).
Despite the provincial department appealing to basic education director-general Mathanzima Mweli to delay the return of all pupils except matrics until August 3, it has bowed to the wishes of the Council of Education Ministers (CEM).
Image: SAMORN TARAPAN/123rf.com

The Eastern Cape education department has decided to toe the line and “honour” basic education minister Angie Motshekga’s directive to send pupils in grades R, 6 and 11 back to school on Monday.

Despite the provincial department appealing to basic education director-general Mathanzima Mweli to delay the return of all pupils except matrics until August 3, it has bowed to the wishes of the Council of Education Ministers (CEM).

There are however concerns, particularly in respect of teacher shortages.  

On Thursday, the government decided not to allow all pupils scheduled to return to class next week to do so, except for those in grades R, 6 and 11.  

In a virtual sitting of the provincial legislature on Friday, education MEC Fundile Gade maintained that the Eastern Cape’s proposal to delay the return of all pupils was  a “scientific and well-thought idea”.

“However, the CEM has found differently and we’re going to have to honour that,” he told EFF MPL Yazini Tetyana, who had asked a question on the matter.

Gade said during the course of the weekend the department would have to “work out a plan on how to not postpone the programme of teaching and learning of the kids on the basis of some of the decisions at the level of the CEM and other related platforms”.

He was pleased, however, that those schools that had not met health and safety regulations would remain closed.

Motshekga is expected to hold a press briefing during the weekend.

DispatchLIVE asked Mweli via e-mail whether he had responded to Eastern Cape superintendent-general Themba Kojana’s proposal that all pupils except those in matric stay away from school,  but he had not responded at the time of writing.

Kojana could not be reached on Friday and department spokesperson Loyiso Pulumani also did not respond to queries.

Gade said the province prioritised  pupils’ safety.

“That’s why we took a decision to preserve and secure grade 12, and probably grade 7. However, we have to subject ourselves to the legislative and policy framework because we’re a unitary state. Hence the CEM sat [on Thursday] and engaged extensively and agreed on the rephasing of grade 6 and grade 11 (and R).”

“At a strategic level in government we’re going to have to a way to navigate ourselves, in that we are going to be challenged by the relations in education and other sector departments that must be able to respond to Covid-19 regulations.


Education portfolio committee chair Mpumelelo Saziwa tabled a report on infrastructure development, which found that the department’s infrastructure budget had been slashed drastically for interventions against the pandemic.

“This will have a negative impact on set targets and more on eradication of [infrastructure] backlogs”.

Saziwa’s report recommended that the department, working closely with Treasury, must ensure that there was “budget allocation to meet Covid-19 demands in order for the department to meet its targets”.

On “examinations and education related services”, the report highlighted a possibility of reducing teacher numbers owing to underlying illnesses, which would reduce the numbers of qualified teachers “for the gateway subjects”.

The portfolio committee demanded a plan within 30 days of the department detailing how it would deal with the impending teacher shortage crisis.

A report showing that Eastern Cape schools had failed to meet required health and safety standards since reopening a month ago also emerged this week.

The report showed that not only had pupils’ risk of contracting Covid-19 been heightened through the shared use of textbooks, but the personal protective equipment (PPE) delivered to schools has not been up to scratch.

Not all provinces have decided to fall in line with the CEM’s directive.

After Motshekga’s announcement on Thursday, the KwaZulu-Natal education department said the province had decided to only accept grades 6 and 11 on Monday.

“Grade R learners must temporarily remain at home and await further advice,” the department said in a circular issued to education stakeholders.


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