President Cyril Ramaphosa has reassured parents they will not be forced to send their children back to school when on-site learning resumes for Grade 7 and 12 pupils on 1 June.
Ramaphosa addressed the nation on Sunday evening, outlining that the country would be moving to Level 3 of the Covid-19 lockdown on 1 June. South Africa is currently at Level 4 of the nationwide lockdown.
The country was initially under a hard lockdown, Level 5, for five weeks, with most of the economy, except essential services, shut after the first Covid-19 cases were recorded in March.
Level 4 came into effect on 1 May, which meant some economic activity resumed and activities such as exercise and the purchase of some clothes were allowed.
On Sunday, Ramaphosa said the risk-adjusted approach of the lockdwon was guided by several criteria. It included the level of infection and rate of transmission, the capacity of health facilities, the extent of the implementation of public health interventions, as well as the economic and social impact of continued restrictions.
Education and teaching, especially at school level, has been a serious concern for weeks. Some schools resorted to online and remote teaching after shutting their gates more than 2 months ago.
The Department of Basic Education has been hard-pressed to balance the safety of pupils and teachers on the one hand, while saving the academic year on the other.
The department has been meeting with multiple stakeholders to ensure that pupils return to school safely.
Last week, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga announced that Grade 7 and 12s would be the first cohort to return to schools in a phased approach starting on 1 June.
"It is understandable that there is some concern about the reopening of schools, and I must stress that no parent will be forced to send their child to school if they are worried about safety," Ramaphosa said on Sunday evening.
He added there would be strict control measures at schools, and water and sanitation infrastructure were being put in place to allow for physical distancing and regular hand washing.
Minister Motshekga had previously also outlined that no parent would be forced to send their child to school and that homeschooling was an option available to parents.
Motshekga said schools would, however, have to be Covid-19 compliant and meet all safety measures before teaching and learning resumed. This includes having sufficient supplies of personal protective equipment, which is currently being delivered to schools, and ensuring that there would be physical distancing by having not more than 20 pupils in a classroom.
Ramaphosa said while government was prioritising pupils, students, teachers and workers, it was also concerned about the growth and development of children. He added that they should not be permanently disadvantaged by the pandemic.He added that measures were also being put in place to ensure safety as children access school nutrition programmes and scholar transport.
Teachers were expected to resume their duties on Monday and prepare for the return of pupils in June.