SA plans reopening of schools from next week

South Africa plans to begin reopening its schools next week, allowing students to return in a phased approach in a continuing effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Classes will resume from May 6, with students from grades seven and 12 being the first to return, Hubert Mweli, director-general of South Africa’s education department, told lawmakers on Wednesday. Schools have been closed since late March, when the government introduced a nationwide lock down to slow the pace of Covid-19 infections.

The South African government and the National Treasury will provide funding to equip schools with necessary infrastructure, including screening equipment and additional mobile classrooms to gear up and fight the spread of the virus in schools. While South Africa’s private-school system is well-resourced, there is a concern around space in classrooms for social distancing, and even water and sanitation in some of the country’s government, or public, schools.

The reopening will take place under strict conditions, including a limit of no more than two students per desk, and that children wear face masks during the school day, Mweli said. All classes are expected to have returned by July 15, Mweli said.

The National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa, the country’s second-largest educators’ union said the government’s plan to reopen facilities may be too hasty.

“We are not convinced as Naptosa that everything is in place in our schools, in our provinces to actually even consider a date of the May 4 or 6,” union Executive Director Basil Manuel said. “This is certainly not what we are supporting at this stage.”

South Africa is taking a phased approach in exiting one of the strictest lockdowns globally, where the sale of alcohol, cigarettes and exercise outside of the home hasn’t been allowed. The pandemic and a lockdown that came into effect on March 27 to contain the spread has compounded the nation’s woes, with the central bank anticipating a 6.1% contraction in gross domestic product this year. Economic workgroup Business for South Africa projects there could be 1 million job losses.

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