SENIOR STAFF WRITER
THE government says it needs a whopping $21 billion to ensure the safe re-opening of schools, in the wake of the havoc that has been caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the Daily News reports.
This comes as authorities are planning to re-open schools at the end of June, under a cautious five-phase programme.
It also comes as the government is at war with teachers who have vowed to stay away from work unless they are given adequate personal protective equipment (PPEs).
Appearing before the parliamentary portfolio committee on Primary and Secondary Education yesterday, the permanent secretary in the ministry — Thumisang Thabela — said the $21 billion would ensure a safe return to schools by learners.
“We … need a grand total of $21 452 000 000 plus, but we are aware that it is a dream that we can only wish comes true.
“The minister will soon be presenting our strategic plan in Cabinet and only after that will we be able to come up with definite (re-opening) dates, but we are envisaging five phases of opening.
“And we need at least four weeks from now to prepare for the first phase, which will see only examination classes going back to school,” Thabela told the committee.
“The second phase will cater for all the learners who will be writing their public examinations in 2021, that is those doing Grade Six, Form Three, Lower Sixth this year and this will need us to prepare for three weeks after the first phase.
“Going by that timeframe, it follows, therefore, that the second phase will likely commence in mid-July,” she added.
“We are cognisant of the fact that in most rural schools we have classes of about 45 learners, while urban schools have classes of almost 60 … infant classes, where we do not have teachers, can even go up to 120.
“It means we have to divide the classes by two at the minimum and that will mean there will be need for more teachers because where we had one, we will need two,” Thabela further told the committee.
“These two phases come with serious challenges because winter is at its peak, yet we cannot afford to keep the children ventilated while in class in line with the health guidelines under Covid-19.
“Phase five is the last when winter is over and we introduce our beloved children in the Early Childhood Development (ECD) school,” she said.
Thabela revealed that the government would seek the help of partners, including United Nations (UN) agencies, to fund the re-opening.
Some of the requirements the government must make available for schools to be fully equipped for learning include the provision of clean water at every school.
“We also need to have liquid hand-washing detergents, hand-washing stations, sanitisers, especially for urbanites, masks for the 4,5 million learners and over 290 000 staff.
“Gloves for the management of suspected cases of Covid-19 at the schools, two gowns for health co-ordinators at each school, disinfectants for schools, adequate and clean toilets, as well as tents to use as classes since some of the schools are being used as quarantine centres,” Thabela also said.
She added that her ministry had also requested permission from the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social
Welfare to recruit 6 000 more teachers on top of the 2 300 they had already been allowed to recruit next month, to cater for the deficit that would be created when classes are split to ensure social distancing.