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Schools health, safety paramount: President Ramaphosa

President Cyril Ramaphosa has assured parents that the health and safety of learners and students would be of paramount importance as government prepares to reopen schools and institutes of higher education in lockdown level 3.

The gradual reopening of schools was meant to begin today with Grades 7 and 12 returning to class. However, on Sunday the Department of Basic Education announced this move was being postponed for another week to improve school readiness. Schools in the country closed on 18 March amid a rise in COVID-19 cases and as a measure to curb further spread.

Today also sees the country move to an eased COVID-19 lockdown level 3.

On Monday, in his weekly letter, President Ramaphosa said the government has heard concerns from teachers and parents about the state of readiness in many schools.

“We welcome their contributions and are taking steps to address their concerns as well as proposals,” he said.

Announcing the reopening of schools, government has said it would adopt a gradual approach, guided by the advice of our scientists and led by the realities on the ground and consultations with stakeholders.

“In the last few weeks, as we have prepared to return to school, we have had extensive and detailed discussions with all role-players in the education sphere. These have guided our approach to this complex and challenging task,” said the President.

President Ramaphosa said it was understandable that many parents and caregivers had mixed emotions at the reopening of schools.

“There is relief that children will resume their education after a prolonged absence from classrooms and lecture halls. Young people are eager to be in school again and to see friends and teachers. But there is also apprehension on the part of parents, educators and learners themselves,” he said.

Parents want reassurance that the necessary precautions should be in place to adequately protect learners.

“The safety of our youngest citizens from a health and physical perspective is not negotiable. It is our foremost priority,” he said.

Education authorities, at all education levels, he said, are hard at work putting the necessary health and safety measures in place for the reopening of institutions.

“That documentation regarding standard operating procedures have been provided to all schools. These standard operating procedures cover issues like training and orientation of screeners, timetable realignment and configuring classrooms to meet social distancing requirements,” said President Ramaphosa.

The process of delivering personal protective equipment and ensuring the availability of water and sanitation services is proceeding, he said. Learning, once it commences, is expected to take place under strict conditions with a correctly limited number of learners and students.

“As parents, teachers, governing bodies and government, we are in agreement that no school should re-open until all the necessary precautions are in place. There needs to be transparency about the level of preparedness of each of the schools. Everyone who is a key role player, be they a parent, a school governing body member, a teacher or a government official should be able to have the correct information about the state of preparedness of each school. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that the learning environment is safe.”

President Ramaphosa saluted parents and caregivers for ensuring that while schools were closed, they had greater daily responsibility for the education and development of their children.

“Once the lockdown is lifted and more learners return to school, we parents should continue to play a more active role in the education of our children, whether it is through joining school governing bodies, volunteering our services at schools or other forms of assistance.

“Parents can join in volunteering to clean schools, establishing vegetable gardens or being part of neighbourhood school safety committees. This can turn the schools into real, meaningful community schools,” he said.

He reiterated that government was making every effort to protect children.

“As parents, you have entrusted us with the welfare and safety of your children. It is a responsibility we do not take lightly. In the days and weeks to come, we will be closely monitoring the return to school.

“If we follow the protocols and maintain all precautions – as parents, educators, communities and learners – we will effectively minimise the risk posed by the Coronavirus.” – SAnews.gov.za

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