Back to school: educators wrestle Covid-19 equation

Many schools likely to make grades attend on alternate days

Some provinces are in favour of alternating grades on different days of the week in phase 2 of the staggered resumption of schooling that is due to start on July 6, when about 6-million pupils are due to return to class.

In Gauteng, officials are even considering alternating pupils by gender.

In interviews with the Sunday Times this week, education officials in KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng and the North West said their schools are most likely to settle for alternating grades on different days of the week to effect social distancing.

Pupils in grades 1, 2, 3, 6, 10 and 11 are expected to go back to class as education authorities scramble to return to normal operations and salvage the academic year.

The school year will officially close on December 15, according to a government gazette published on Thursday.

Grade 7 and 12 classes resumed nationwide on June 8, though some in the Western Cape resumed a week earlier.

In August, grades 4, 5, 8 and 9 are scheduled to resume classes in phase 3.

Over and above returning to school on a staggered basis, education authorities have offered provinces various options for limiting the number of pupils on the premises at any one time.

These include having different grades attend on alternate days and “platooning”, whereby some pupils attend in the morning and others in the afternoon.


• 46 schools in KwaZulu-Natal are not ready to reopen on July 6

• 20 schools in the Buffalo City district are closed due to infections

These arrangements will not include private schools which, because they have a smaller numbers of pupils, have mostly been able to implement social-distancing requirements.

Gauteng education MEC Panyaza Lesufi said the province’s schools will only introduce alternating classes in phase 3.

“For the second phase, schools will cope just fine and we will have normal classes. On July 6 we are expecting about 909,000 primary school and over 279,000 high school pupils. That will increase us to over 60% of our entire school population.”

The real test, Lesufi said, will be in August when the rest of the pupils return. “Social distancing will be very difficult during the last phase. As such, we will introduce alternate classes and mobile classes.”

Barney Mthembu, deputy director-general for curriculum in the KwaZulu-Natal education department, said the province had opted for alternating classes for different grades. “We are preparing for alternating classes. Schools should tell us what they want to do. For the sake of uniformity, we like the idea of alternating grades.”

He said schools with small numbers should continue with normal classes.

Both Lesufi and Mthembu said their respective provinces will maintain normal daily classes for all grade 12 pupils.

Depending on their needs, schools in the North West might decide on a hybrid model of platooning and alternating classes, provincial education spokesperson Elias Malindi said.

“We will draw up a timetable where different grades will alternate on different days of the week,” he said.

“We are looking at different options really, but because of the difficulty in the logistics of other models, we firmly believe that alternating is the best option.”

Senior managers, he said, were working on a plan to implement the system.

“We will also ask parents to get involved in the education of their children. However, there is nothing concrete as yet. Everything is under discussion and we have to share all our plans with all our stakeholders, including unions.”

Western Cape education spokesperson Bronagh Hammond said the province had not yet decided which option to implement as officials were still in talks.

“We have asked schools, in the interim, to submit plans indicating their capacity and when they will reach capacity while adhering to physical distancing and newly phased-in grades.” Almost 700,000 pupils will return to school on July 6, she said.

Meanwhile, guidelines issued by the national department on Wednesday say schools, where a pupil or staff member has been in contact with someone only suspected of having Covid-19, are not required to close, institute restrictions or send anyone home, unless and until the suspected case is later confirmed as positive.

“The relevant public health officials will discuss the case, identify people who have been in contact with the patient, and advise on any action or precautions that should be taken,” the document reads.


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