By: Precious M. Lesupi
On April 30, the Minister of Basic Education – Angie Motshekga – together with the Minister of Higher Education & Training – Blade Nzimande – delivered an address in relation to the COVID-19 level 4 lockdown.
Higher Education and Training
Minister Blade Nzimande said that the department has not decided to resume any campus based activities as level 4 lockdown begins; this was guided by the National Command Council (NCC). “We must save the 2020 academic year, but not at the expense of lives”, he continued.
Nzimande and his team will be developing and implementing effective multimodal remote learning from May 1st. This includes securing a universal access deal with the major mobile network operators around data and connectivity to support remote learning, “we believe we are close to reaching such a deal”, he said. The department is also finalizing the procurement and distribution of devices (laptops) for all students and its connectivity into digital remote learning platforms.
The minister appealed to all students to ensure that they urgently register their correct numbers with their institutions so that when the educational rate for data is finalized, it can be loaded onto the correct number for all students to benefit. During the month of May, the department will prepare all Post School Education Training (PSET) campuses with deep cleaning and biosafety protocols to ensure readiness for the eventual return of students and staff. They will be employing SMME’s and Cooperatives for this task. “Our intention as a sector is to use this phase for planning and preparation at all our Universities and TVET Colleges, and the mobilization of resources”, Nzimande said.
When students return to campus, there will be protocols in place for the maintenance of physical distancing, access to hand sanitizer, access to protective masks and continual deep cleaning of facilities. “We will also be providing mental health support and other forms of support necessary for staff and students throughout”, Nzimande continued. For NSFAS students, funding will continue while the academic year is underway. A directive has been issued to all Sector Education and Training Authorities to continue with the payment of learner stipends during the nationwide lockdown period. “We will have to involve the banks to assist the missing middle with affordable loans”, Nzimande said.
“As a department, we are aware that the COVID-29 pandemic has created new significant financial pressure on universities”, Nzimande adds. For this reason, the government has made a provision for controlled relaxation to enable stalled infrastructure projects to be resumed from May 1st, subject to adherence to strict health protocols.
A calendar detailing the commencement and end of classes, examination sessions as well as the short recess period will be released.
“The safety of learners and educators has to be in balance with the academic year”, declares Minister Angie Motshekga on the reopening of schools. According to the minister, curriculum support will be available for radio stations and other media, although it would only cover 30% of what could have been learned in a classroom. Motshekga said that all mid year examinations will be postponed to December and this will be the highest number of matriculants in one sitting in the history of the department. She further urged parents to continue paying school fees or make arrangements with the school if they are not able to do so.
The department’s proposed academic calendar suggests an opening of the sector from May 4th for the first group of officials to prepare for the phased reopening of school. “The phased approach to reopening of schools is guided by scientific research”, said Motshekga. On vandalized and torched schools, she explained that the department would have to assess the level of damages in schools before developing a