18 January 2021
PRETORIA – The MEC for Education in Gauteng, Panyaza Lesufi on Monday commended Helpmekaar Kollege school management in Braamfontein, Johannesburg for reconsidering not to re-open the school.
Over the weekend the media had reported that the school had sent a communique to parents saying the scholars should report back to school on Monday 18 January 2021, despite the Department of Basic Education’s (DBE) decision to postpone the re-opening of schools from 27 January to 15 February 2021 due to concerns over the rising COVID-19 infections in the province.
“The decision to delay the schools re-opening followed our engagements with the DBE’s Minister where we raised several concerns – based on the expert advice we have been getting from the province’s Corona Command Council. The Council indicated three areas of serious concern including the fact that many people would be returning to Gauteng from other provinces following the festive season. Secondly, Gauteng was already beginning to experience an influx of people from outside the country as the borders were still opened, and lastly; many companies were also resuming operations – meaning workers were also flocking to the province,” MEC Lesufi said.
Lesufi said the sheer numbers of those returning to Gauteng was creating a serious threat to learning in Gauteng as reopening schools meant some 2.5-million parents (combined total of learners in both private and public sector schools in the province) had to begin preparing their children for school. This would require a lot of movement as parents would purchase uniforms and stationery; further giving the Coronavirus ability to travel and infect people.
“The delay to re-open schools does not speak to the schools’ capability to manage the virus; it is more to help minimize the movement of people so that we reduce the chances of infections. Schools may as well have the means to sanitize and keep social distancing; but those learners move daily between home and schools thereby raising the chances that young people – who have also been identified as COVID-19 variant – spread this virus, Lesufi explained.
The two weeks’ delay is expected to give the province’s health system, which is straining under the COVID-19 pressure, a reprieve as the virus can be treated in around 14 days.
Following discussions with the school, the MEC said he was pleased that the management of Helpmekaar Kollege had agreed with him on the dangers of the virus and how devastating it could be. The school further explained that they had re-opened prior to the DBE’s announcement but indicated a review of their decision. Further, the school would migrate their classes to an online platform and would only keep seven learners in their board facility as they did not have access to online learning support while at home.
Lesufi also indicated that he had engaged the management of Curro schools as it was also reported that they had planned to re-open today.
“I spoke to the CEO of Curro schools and they have also agreed to retract face-to-face learning. The province is under siege from the COVID-19 virus and we need everyone to play their part,” the Education MEC said.
Lesufi further indicated that the province was in the process of requesting the DBE to ensure that the two weeks’ delay is gazetted so that the decision becomes law.
“We will retreat for two weeks and monitor the situation; wait for the experts to advice and then make an announcement on whether we return in two weeks or not. Our decision will always be based on sound, scientifically-backed advice,” Lesufi said.