As primary school pupils resume classes on a full-time basis on Monday, teachers have been advised to give pupils a mask break every two hours “to ensure they do not get carbon dioxide retention”.
This is the advice that the ministerial advisory committee (MAC) has given to the department of basic education.
According to the advisory by the MAC, all primary schools should open at full capacity and practise “maximum feasible physical distancing between pupils.
“Ideally, all children should be at least one metre apart within classrooms, but where this is not possible full capacity schooling should still be commenced,” teacher unions, school governing body associations and a principals’ association were told during different meetings with the department on Saturday.
On Friday, co-operative governance and traditional affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma announced that the physical distancing requirement would be cut from 1.5m to 1m.
The advisory stated that with the move to full capacity, “the critical need for adequate ventilation within classrooms (open windows), appropriate use of face masks and good hygiene practices need to be strongly re-emphasised”.
The mask break “entails going outdoors and removing their masks, and breathing for approximately 5-15 minutes”.
High schools can also immediately bring back all pupils if the one metre physical distancing is maintained.
“Where this is not possible, attendance on a rotational basis should continue presently acknowledging the relatively higher risk of Covid-transmission and illness in children aged 15 to 19 years.”
Servaas van der Berg, an economics professor at Stellenbosch University, said he was in favour of all primary school pupils returning on a daily basis.
“Children are less susceptible to getting infected and if they do, it’s usually much milder,” he said.
He said that the learning losses was a major problem that may dominate education for a number of years.
Wits University vaccinology professor Shabir Madhi said the risk [of infection] is less to children than their contacts, especially people with underlying medical conditions at heightened risk for severe disease.
“With opportunities now open for them to be vaccinated, which confers high levels of protection against severe disease and death, there is no reason for schools not to be opened as we now have the tools available to mitigate that risk,” said Madhi.
“Children have been getting infected at the same rate as adults in SA, even with repeat school closures to the detriment of the children’s mental, educational and health wellbeing over the past 18 months,” he said, adding that it was high time “that we learn to live with the virus, which we are now able to do with much greater comfort having vaccines that are highly effective in protecting against severe Covid and death.”
In Gauteng, education MEC Panyaza Lesufi said primary schools were ready for the return of all pupils, saying only 57 of the 2,300 schools “have overcrowding challenges”.
He was speaking on Sunday after the education department announced that online and walk-in applications for admission to grades 8 and 1 next year will open on August 10 and September 13 respectively.
The admissions will be conducted in two phases with the first one being open to grade 7 pupils in public primary schools this year who are applying to enrol for grade 8 next year.
The second phase will be open for applications from grade 1 pupils as well as grade 8 pupils who are not in grade 7 in public schools this year.
The first phase will open on August 10 and close on September 3 while the second phase will start on September 13 and close on October 8. The placement of pupils in phase 1 will happen between October 15 and November 30 while pupils who applied in phase 2 will be placed between November 15 and 30.
Meanwhile, Lesufi and basic education minister Angie Motshekga were expected to visit schools in Ekurhuleni on Monday to monitor the first day of the return of all primary school pupils.