South Africa: Media Statement - Basic Education Committee Hears 'Overstretched' Health System Is Reason Schools Opening Delayed

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The Portfolio Committee on Basic Education last night heard that the decision to delay reopening schools in 2021 was based on a request from the Ministry of Health. The request came because health institutions are overstretched due to the "second wave" of the Covid-19 pandemic. The committee received a briefing on the delay yesterday evening from the Department of Basic Education (DBE).

Committee Chairperson Ms Bongiwe Mbinqo-Gigaba said the update provided a better understanding the reason for the delay. "In understanding the challenges and constraints in the health system, the decision to delay the reopening of schools for the start of the academic year was the correct one. The reality is that Covid-19 is around. It has dealt with our families and friends. If delaying the restart of schools means that we can save family and friends, then we are in favour of this." The DBE pointed out that school management teams will start work on Monday, 25 January, to prepare for the year ahead.

The DBE also told the committee that the rate of hospitalisations has risen with the second wave. However, hospitalisations for children remains low, at around 25 hospitalisations per week for those age 5 to 14. However, there has been an increase in infection in older children and young adults. As for educators, 16 495 have been infected with 409 fatalities since March 2020.

Marking for the 2020 National Senior Certificate (NSC) examinations occured in all provinces in 177 marking centres. Marks should be finalised on Friday, 22 January, as the majority of provinces have already completed marking, with only two provinces still marking some papers. However, this work will be completed timeously.

The 2020 exam scripts were marked by 45 272 markers, of which 1 738 had to be substituted by others due to infection or fear of infection. The DBE had planned for this eventuality and had 10-15% addition markers in reserve.

The capturing of marks is being done by 611 employees at 34 capturing centres across all nine provinces, each managed by a system administrator. Safety and security protocols are in place. "The committee has planned to receive a further update in about three weeks on the readiness to release matric results," said Ms Mbinqo-Gigaba.

Some general and educator assistants were not paid stipends in December, the DBE informed the committee, as money transfers to schools occurred after some schools had closed for the year. However, all payments should be up to date by the end of next week.

More From: Parliament of South Africa

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