* THIS ARTICLE IS BEING UPDATED AS NEW INFORMATION ABOUT SCHOOLS AND TERTIARY INSTITUTIONS CLOSURES EMERGES.
Public and independent schools in Makhanda will close this week following President Cyril Ramaphosa’s statement last night on national measures to contain the spread of Coronavirus. Eastcape Midlands College remained open Monday 16 March, but Rhodes University temporarily suspended academic activities as vice chancellors across the country consult with Minister Blade Nzimande about measures tertiary institutions should take to help contain Covid-19. According to the World Health Organisation’s situation report, as of Monday 16 March, there were 164 837 Covid-19 cases confirmed globally in 146 countries. Of those, 6 470 people had died. In South Africa, confirmed cases stand at 62, with no deaths reported.
Public and independent schools in Makhanda will close this week to mitigate what has been declared a national disaster. Public schools were due to close this Friday and re-open on 31 March for what is usually a 10-day Easter vacation. These include Victoria Girls’ High School, Ntsika Secondary and PJ Olivier that will will close tomorrow (Tuesday). Graeme College, St Andrew’s College, Kingswood College and Makanaskop Primary (along with most other public schools) will close on Wednesday. As things stand, public schools are set to re-open on Wednesday 15 April.
Independent schools operate on three (longer) terms. St Andrew’s College, St Andrew’s Prep and the Diocesan School for Girls were due to close on 8 April, returning 5 May. No return date was confirmed in a joint letter to parents. “Communication will follow in due course with regards to distance learning arrangements,” the three principals said. “Boarding will be available until every pupil has been able to travel. We will be writing to you tomorrow to provide details as to how we intended to mitigate the loss of term time as a result of these necessary measures.”
Kingswood College was to have closed on 3 April and reopen on 29 April.
“We support the President in urging all citizens to remain calm, stay informed and take the necessary precautions to prevent the spread of the virus,” Kingswood College head Colleen Vassiliou said. “We know matters will change from day to day and we will keep close contact with the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) to remain on top of the latest health news. We understand that closing of schools seems to cause a bit of uncertainty, but we support the measure to ensure families can be at home until more clarity is obtained about the way forward… More details will be communicated to our Kingswood families in due course.”
Along with links to reliable information on the global pandemic, several principals shared links to online learning resources and told parents that learners would receive projects and other work to complete during the extended vacation.
“We are hoping to keep our educational program alive, by either starting school two weeks early or by allowing our pupils to learn via e-learning,” Vassiliou said.
“Learners will receive projects, tasks and other academic activities, to complete during the holidays,” Principal Joubert Retief told PJ Olivier parents. Retief and Graeme College Principal Kevin Watson shared links to various e-learning sites.
“Our staff are extremely concerned about the impact on our academic programme and we are already putting together tasks and plans for the learners to work through over the holiday period,” Watson said.
“All schools will be sending out a similar letter today, following the President’s address regarding the Covid 19 virus and the corresponding (and very appropriate) measures taken by the government,” Watson told parents in an emailed newsletter today. “This will, no doubt, have a serious and negative effect on the economy, and also put severe strain on parents with regard to day care for their children. The reality, however, is that there is no other option, as countries across the world are all struggling with the same issues. This is a global pandemic, and we all need to work through it together.”
Sport and extracurricular activities this week have been cancelled.
The Post Schooling Education and Training System (PSET) consists of around 2.5 million students and staff, according to Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Blade Nzimande.
Local tertiary institutions Rhodes University and Eastcape Midlands College (EMC), however, have not yet announced any closures.
An SMS signed off by Vice Chancellor Sizwe Mabizela and sent this morning to Rhodes staff and students read, “Academic activities temporarily suspended for today (16/3) while consultations are held to decide on the way forward.”
In a circular emailed to staff and students on Saturday, the Vice Chancellor announced that the Graduation Ceremonies scheduled for 2-4 April 2020 had been postponed until further notice.
In addition, with immediate effect, all events which will involve significant numbers of people from outside of Makhanda/Grahamstown and its immediate surrounds, which were to have taken place on the Rhodes University campus between then and 30 June 2020, were either cancelled, postponed, or converted to an online event.
Normal academic activities and events which did not involve significant numbers of outside visitors to the campus would continue.
“The situation regarding the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) is being constantly monitored, and travel and gathering advisories will be adjusted as conditions change and in line with advice from our national government and/or the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD),” Mabizela said.
EMC has a total of 5000 students at four campuses – two in Uitenhage, one in Graaff-Reinet and one in Makhanda. EMC spokesperson Elmarie van der Merwe* today told Grocott’s Mail none been closed. Instead, they had sent out a communique to staff and students detailing measures to protect oneself against infection.
“We are awaiting the outcome of the meeting between Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Blade Nzimande and the vice chancellors,” Van de Merwe told Grocott’s Mail.
Nzimande is set to meet with Universities South Africa (USAf), the South African College Principals Organisation (SACPO), and the South African Students Union (SAUS) tomorrow, Tuesday 17 March 2020 to agree on a common national Protocol and Management Plan across the sector “as the time horizon extends into the future”.
The meeting would also consider various coping strategies in response to different scenarios regarding the scale and intensity of viral spread, including if necessary, periods of suspension of all activities at our public institutions.
In a statement this morning, Nzimande said his Department was engaging with the Department of Health, the Medical Research Council, and the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority to boost research on the COVID-19 virus. The DSI had redirected R4 million from other projects to some of the COVID–19 related proposed interventions, he said.
“We have been in close consultation with the leadership of our public higher education institutions in developing [Covid-19 protocols] as well as with the Department of Health,” Nzimande said.
* We previously incorrectly referred to the EMC spokesperson as Elmari van Niekerk instead of Van der Merwe.
How will school closures affect Makhanda schools?
Around 15000 children attend public schools in Makhanda. These learners come from a broad variety of socio-economic backgrounds, ranging from well-resourced middle class homes to the town’s poorest, whose children attend no-fee schools.
Concerns about the academic programme run across the board. In addition, principals of no-fee schools have expressed concern about their learners’ physical welfare during this extended vacation.
Principal of Ntsika Secondary, Madeleine Schoeman, said catching up on two weeks’ work would be “difficult but not impossible”.
“If [the June exam]dates remain unchanged then it would be difficult but not impossible,” Schoeman said. “Classes will continue into the late afternoon and into evening with Grade 12s.
The problem is very tired learners and staff,” Schoeman said.
However, closing schools for an extra six weeks would be disastrous.
Speaking to Grocott’s Mail last week, Schoeman said, “It is quite difficult to be proactive in this case as it would depend on how authorities deal with it [whether it is]a total lock-down and ban on large gatherings…”
Few of the school’s learners had access to internet and/or sufficient data, Schoeman said. “However, we will make a plan.”
Makanaskop Primary serves more than 500 children, many of whom are from informal settlements on the far north-eastern edge of Makhanda. Principal Mkhosi Williams says many come from eNkanini and Transit Camp.
“The others are from Extension 9, Extension 8 and Extension 10,” Willliams told Grocott’s Mail.
“A lot of those children some to school for the food,” he said. “For many of them the school meal we provide is the only meal of the day.”
Fortunately a project based at Assumption Development Centre had, together with the school, identified 15 of their most vulnerable children and supplied meals for them, even during school holidays.
Spokesperson for the Department of Social Development in the Eastern Cape Gcobani Maswani said they were aware of this concern and were awaiting advice from the national Department.
“Our approach has been to ensure adequate nutrition for children while they are attending school. But now they will be with their families,” Maswani said. “There have been a number of engagements on this and we are awaiting a directive that will come from the departments of health, education and social development.”
The Suid-Afrikaanse Onderwysersunie sent out a document advising teachers and principals how to prevent the spread of respiratory infections such as Covid-19. However, as of this time last week, public schools had received no official advice from the Department of Education about measures to control and manage Coronavirus.
In response to queries from Grocott’s Mail, the Department of Education said they would be meeting with the Department of Health on Thursday (12 March) to come up with guidelines for schools.
Guidelines for prevention and mitigation were sent to schools on Friday 13 March.
*UPDATE 17 MARCH 2020 – –EC SCHOOLS
A circular sent to all public schools in the Education Department’s Sarah Baartman District this morning confirms that all schools will close on Wednesday 18 March 2020 and re-open after the Easter Weekend, on 14 April 2020.
District Director Nkosinathi Godlo said all excursions and tours, including those already approved by the Director, were cancelled with immediate effect, as were all sporting and music activities and additional holiday classes.
Schools were urged to support learners during this period by giving them homework, revision work and past exam papers.
“It is advisable that principals and educators be creative given the fact that these learners will be at home for some time,” Godlo said in the circular.
*FURTHER UPDATE 17 MARCH 2020 – EC SCHOOLS
While schools close on Wednesday, staff have been instructed to remain at school for a further two days.
Godlo has sent out a second memorandum to schools today marked “URGENT” saying, “As per the directive issued by the Council of Education Ministers (CEM) and confirmed by the Head of Departments Committee (HEDCOM) on 17 March 2020, all school-based educators and non-educators are instructed to attend school until Friday, 19 March 2020.”
* FURTHER UPDATE 17 MARCH 2020 – RHODES UNIVERSITY
Rhodes University will start its first-term break 10 days early, aligning the dates to those announced by schools – Wednesday 18 March returning 14 April. Students have been instructed to leave university residences as soon as possible but no later than 5pm on Friday 20 March. Vice-Chancellor Dr Sizwe Mabizela anounced this in a circular sent to staff and students shortly after 4pm Tuesday 17 March.
- This story will continue to update – we will add new information regarding school and tertiary closures here as we get it.
World Health Organisation (WHO) website has a section that outlines every aspect of the virus and may be found on: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019
National Department of Health: http://www.health.gov.za/index.php/outbreaks/145-corona-virus-outbreak/465-corona-virus-outbreak
National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) (www.nicd.ac.za)