Plan to salvage school year hammered out
● An earlier start to the school day, evening and weekend classes and scrapping “nonessential” parts of the curriculum in certain subjects.
These are among the “possibilities” the department of basic education is looking into, along with scrapping the June and September school holidays.
Basic education minister Angie Motshekga will make final proposals to a special cabinet meeting scheduled for this week.
Department spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said a decision on the June exams that were to have been written by tens of thousands of part-time pupils, as well as progressed pupils who wrote only half their subjects last year, will be announced shortly.
“We were supposed to start printing question papers on April 1 and we have not been able to do that,” he said.
“It’s practically impossible [to have the exams in June]. In terms of the management plan, we have already missed some operational deadlines in terms of logistics, markers, checkers, exam centres.”
He said discussions about this exam took place at a special meeting between the director-general of basic education and the superintendents-general of the provincial education departments on Friday.
“There was a position that was taken but it will still need to be given to the minister.”
He said that one of the options is “switching” these exams to a later date. The minister will make the final decision.
A committee is also looking at whether the writing of the June exams by pupils in grades 1-12 should go ahead or be postponed.
Teacher unions want these exams scrapped.
Pushed on whether the internal June exams will be postponed, Mhlanga said: “The entire school calendar has now shifted, so anything is possible.”
Commenting on the proposal to extend the school day, he said that schools starting at 7.45am could start at 7am.
“The breaks could be shortened. Teachers could teach until the afternoon and maybe learners could go home and come back and lessons could go on into the evening.”
Speaking about the possibility of removing the “non-core” elements of the curriculum in some subjects, he stressed this does not imply “the skipping of the essential elements”.
“This is just a thought. I don’t know whether the committee will propose it or not.”
He referred to the shutdown of schools in Vuwani, Limpopo, during community unrest, saying that the curriculum content had been reviewed to enable pupils to catch up with the loss of teaching time.
“During that time, we looked at the nonessential text in the curriculum that could be skipped without compromising what learners should know. The Vuwani situation could be an option. The people are working today and tomorrow because the plan needs to be finalised.”
Basil Manuel, executive director of the National Professional Teachers Organisation of SA (Naptosa), said the department’s national curriculum and assessment task team was looking at streamlining the curriculum “so that the important things are taught”.
“We did say certain chunks of the curriculum that are not building blocks for next year could be removed from this year’s curriculum. In every curriculum in every subject there are certain things we do which seem to be important for a grade but in fact you don’t refer to them again in later grades.”
The minister was in agreement “that these things need to be looked at”.
“There are people who are saying to us there are some subjects which you can drop to make sure the critical ones happen. If a decision is made to say we are going back and we are going to have three subjects, nobody can be surprised.”
Manuel said their view was that the internal exams for grades 1-12 pupils, including the June matric exams, should be scrapped “because that’s curriculum time and you must be teaching in that time”.
He said Naptosa supported the plan to scrap the holidays or greatly reduce them.
“I don’t believe there’s a single teacher out there who believes we are going back and a few days later we are going to have three weeks’ June holiday,” he said.
Education expert Professor Mary Metcalfe said that because of the time lost, teachers will need to adjust their expectations of what children can learn by the end of the year.
“Parents’ priority must be to keep their children feeling supported and engaged.”
Minister of basic education Angie Motshekga will present the cabinet with a plan for the school year.