Covid-19: KZN DoE shortcomings exposed as confusion continues over reopening of Grade R/ECD centres  

Issued by Dr Imran Keeka, MPL – DA KZN Spokesperson on Education
06 Jul 2020 in Press Statements

The Democratic Alliance (DA) notes today’s Gauteng High Court judgment regarding the opening Early Childhood Centres (ECD) across the country with immediate effect.

We also note that the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) Department of Education (DoE) has chosen to delay the phasing in of those under their care to a later date – a move which is not entirely unreasonable given the many challenges involving this age group and the pre-grade R phase sector in KZN.

Of concern though is that while today’s judgment has clarified points of law, there is still no firm legal mandate for the Department of Education (DoE) to be completely in charge of ECD and it continues to overlap with the Department of Social Development (DSD).

At provincial level where implementation takes place this overlap will continue to cause confusion for all stakeholders until there is a complete function shift to the DoE.

It is in this light that the DA has today written to KZN’s MECs for Education and Social Development (view here) to seek clarity with regards to the re-opening of ECD facilities and to ensure compliance with the court ruling. The move also comes after the DA was made aware of DSD officials who have allegedly threatened facilities with legal action should they begin operations today. Given these claims and in view of the high court order it is now urgent that they desist from this.

Meanwhile, as Grade 6 and 11 learners return to school today it remains clear that the DoE’s challenges have not gone away. These principally involve lack of floor space, furniture and proper infrastructure that will adequately cater for safe physical distancing once all learners are phased in.

Juggling of the time table and alternating days on which certain Grades may be in schools, while appearing to be plausible, will require thinking out of the box and most certainly require looking at international trends are in adapting to the “new-normal”.

Desk spacers must be on the cards given that there is not enough furniture and the space when all of KZN’s 2.8 million learners are back at school at the end of the phasing in period. Of the 345 schools in KZN that were closed due to Covid-19 infections, 236 are currently operational.  This will be a moving statistic though, given that the rate of infections has risen significantly.  Parents and learners are urged to ensure that all the safety precautions are taken at all times, especially when learners leave school.

The issue of PPE supply also remains problematic and it is an indictment against KZN’s DoE that many schools did not receive this equipment on time. The DA is aware of approximately 29 schools in the Phoenix area allegedly did not receive PPE for Grades 6 and 11 today.  We are also aware of the delay in delivery and shortages within Pietermaritzburg’s Northdale Circuit. The DA regards this as completely unacceptable and KZN Education MEC, Kwazi Mshengu must explain why this is the case.

The MEC has previously cited Treasury process, along with thuggery by certain illegal business forums as reasons for both shortages and delays but has not shown any evidence of legal proceedings or the involvement of SAPS when it comes to the latter.

Why these illegal business fora are allowed to constantly hold the Department to ransom and why the MEC is sitting on his hands in this regard also needs to be urgently explained.

The DA will be submitting a written parliamentary question in this regard. Regrettably the MEC has still not responded to the DA’s parliamentary questions around PPE which was procured at above market value prices. We will continue to pursue this matter given the estimated total spend of more than R800million with the phasing in of Grades.

The DA wishes the returning Grade 6 and 11 learners well for the new term and hope that it will be a successful one. We remain committed to oversight of education within the province The KZN government’s priority must be a capable state through quality basic education.

The foundation for this is not just about completing the curriculum but also to ensure that the environment to do this is conducive, safe and resourced.