COVID-19 & EDUCATION

Ramaphosa announces extended academic year and public school closures

By Ayanda Mthethwa 24 July 2020

President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses the nation at the Union Buildings, Preto​ria on 23 July 2020 on the progress of the national effort to contain the Covid-19 pandemic. (Photo: GCIS / Kopano Tlape)

After weeks of consultations and intense discussions, President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced that public schools will close for four weeks, with exceptions for Grades 12 and 7. And the academic year will be extended to 2021.

Amid the Covid-19 peak, South Africa’s public schools will go on a break from 27 July to 24 August, except for Grade 12 and Grade 7 learners who will return to school on 3 August and 10 August respectively.

“We have taken a deliberately cautious approach to keep schools closed during a period when the country is expected to experience its greatest increase in infections,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said during his address to the nation on Thursday 23 July. 

“This has also been the experience in a number of other countries where schools have opened and have also had to close,” he added. 

Ramaphosa alluded to the divergent nature of the consultations among various sector stakeholders, including teacher unions, school governing bodies and civil society, that led to this decision. 

“These produced a broad range of divergent views. It is necessary to report that it was difficult to find consensus on the best approach,” Ramaphosa said. 

However, he reassured the public that there was consensus among stakeholders that the health, academic and social development of learners is the foremost concern. 

“This is consistent with the advice of the World Health Organisation, which argues for a balanced consideration of the educational needs of the child and trends in the development of the disease.

“Officials from the WHO have also said that the best and safest way to reopen schools is in the context of low community transmissions.” 

Ramaphosa also announced that schools must continue feeding learners through the national school’s nutrition programme during the four-week break. 

“Throughout this period the national school’s nutrition programme will continue to operate so that all learners or their parents can collect food directly from schools.” 

Another game-changer in the president’s address was the announcement that the current academic year will be extended to 2021. Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga will provide further details on how the remainder of the academic year will be handled. 

The president’s address was also aimed at addressing the controversial matter of the R500-billion Covid-19 stimulus package announced at the beginning of SA’s lockdown. It has recently dominated public discourse after allegations of corruption in handling the funds surfaced – something that was predicted by political analysts days after the package was announced. 

“What concerns me, and what concerns all South Africans are those instances where funds are stolen, where they are misused, where goods that we have to procure are overpriced… where there is corruption and mismanagement of funds.”

Ramaphosa said the government had established a collaborative and coordinating centre with nine state institutions, aimed at strengthening the collective efforts of law enforcement agencies in dealing with Covid-19 corruption. 

“This centre is currently involved in investigating allegations of corruption in areas such as the distribution of food parcels, social relief grants, procurement of PPE and other medical supplies,” he said. 

The centre is currently handling 36 cases in different stages of investigation and prosecution, he added. 

“We are determined that every instance of alleged corruption must be thoroughly investigated, those who are responsible for wrongdoing should be prosecuted.” 

Ramaphosa said he had signed a proclamation authorising the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) to immediately investigate any unlawful or improper conduct in the procurement of any goods, works and services related to the State of National Disaster in any state institution. 

Meanwhile, Motshekga said: “Schools must make arrangements with parents for learners to get work or materials for them to remain fully engaged during the break.” 

The basic education department said that teachers and non-teaching staff will work from home during the break. DM

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