Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Basic Education will travel to a number of schools across the country this week to assess their readiness for the 2021 academic year.
The oversight visits will be conducted in key provinces including Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape, with a key focus likely to be on the distribution of personal protective equipment and its availability to teachers and learners.
As part of the visits, the committee will also hold meetings with key stakeholders including the Department of Basic Education, senior and district officials, unions, school governing bodies, and the principals association.
In a gazette published last week, Basic education minister Angie Motshekga indicated that the return of students will be staggered, with private school pupils allowed to return to school two weeks earlier than their public school counterparts.
As a result, private sector schools were allowed to return from Monday (1 February), while public sector schools are only set to reopen on 15 February.
Education experts have already warned that the delayed 2021 school calendar, in combination with lost teaching time in 2020, is likely to have a significant impact on South African students.
In a briefing to parliament on 20 January, the Department of Education’s director-general Mathanzima Mweli said that younger students are particularly at risk of forgetting about skills and knowledge acquired at school if they stop learning for extended periods of time.
"This creates a challenge of 'accumulated gaps' as they continue into further grades," he said.
At the other end of the scale, Mweli said that the department was concerned about the Grade 12 cohort of 2021, who lost significant teaching time as Grade 11 pupils in 2020.
We have narrowed the curriculum as part of a process known as 'trimming' which means that these students were not exposed to the full curriculum. However, in matric, they will be examined on the full contents of Grades 10, 11 and 12.
"The further delay of teaching this year places a huge burden on the system as we now not only have to catch up on Grade 12 content but also on the Grade 11 content which was lost last year."
"It is going to be extremely difficult for the education system to recover the learning losses."
Material readiness is defined has having sufficient supplies of hand and surface santisers, along with face masks to meet government’s regulations.
According to the survey’s findings, at least 40% of schools do not have adequate supplies, while 53% say they are not confident that they can comply with government’s santising and social distancing protocols effectively.
Nationally, responses from schools in the Western Cape show they are most equipped to welcome learners back, but deficiencies still exist in certain areas, like supply of masks. KwaZulu-Natal schools are the least prepared.