Staffing and spacing is the biggest challenge that will face the public education sector when schools welcome all learners on 24 August 2020.
This is according to Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga who on Tuesday paid a visit to Eletsa Secondary School and Tshepagalang Secondary School in Letlhabile, Brits to monitor the return of Grade 12 learners to schools.
The visit follows a weeklong break following various calls in the education sector to suspend schooling as COVID-19 infections surged in the country.
Grade 12s returned to the classroom on Monday and will be followed by the Grade 7s who will return to class on 10 August.
All other grades will return to school on 24 August 2020, after nearly a month's break from 27 July.
"For now there is space and there is not much really. The problems are going to come after the 24th.
When learners come back we won't have enough space to ensure physical distancing so we are going to have to use differentiated timetables which are going to be either daily rotations because we can't all be here at the same time every day, there won't be enough space for all of them to safely distance," said the Minister.
To manage the challenge of space, Motshekga said schools will implement a rotational timetable to allow for adequate social distancing in line with the recommended health protocols.
Maintaining that the reopening of schools remains the best decision, the Minister said it would have been catastrophic to cancel the academic year completely.
"For me it is even catastrophic as it is to have kids who have no access to reading materials and ICTS sitting at home since March up to now they have not gone to school.
"For me it is a disaster as even next year when we have trimmed the curriculum we will still not be able to claw back what we have lost," she said.
Department claws back lost teaching time
In order to make up for the lost teaching time, the department has trimmed the curriculum nationally. Parts of the 2020 curriculum will be carried over into 2021.
"What we have done for the internal grades is to take parts of the curriculum of 2020 into the 2021 so we are going to only teach and assess them on only 70% of the curriculum.
"We are not going to dump the work we missed, we are going to factor it into 2021," said Motshekga.
Having carried over parts of the 2020 curriculum into 2021, the Minster said it is unlikely that schools would be able to complete the 2021 curriculum.
"So it is going to be a three-year programme to see if we can claw back what we have lost. Every school is looking at its own situation with the curriculum, and what are some of the available resources.
"What remains for the Grade 12 is that their paper has been set. They are writing a paper that has been set since two years ago. Because the cycle for the paper is 18 months.
"That is why we pushed the exam to December and we are not giving them a break to allow them to finish," she said.
By pushing back the 2020 Grade 12 examinations to conclude by 15 December, they would have made up the lost time due to the pandemic.
While the department has left home schooling as an option for parents anxious about the Coronavirus, the Minister said all indications show that many are not taking it up.
"We even checked with the Home Schooling Association and parents didn't take up home schooling. Without speaking to parents my view is that it is also not easy to home school. You have to register your child and you also have to arrange for assessments and sometimes parents themselves don't have the time and capability to monitor the programme and that is why most of them didn't take it up," she said.
Motshekga said while the department is leaving no stone unturned to ensure the safety of children, parents who still want to keep their children at home must register for home schooling.
"As far as we are concerned we are doing all we can to make sure that children are safe but, rightfully as a parent, if you continue to feel that your child is not safe do the right thing and register your child for home schooling, develop a programme and keep your child at home," she said.