Reference: Published by Staff Writer, 8 May 2023
The National Policy for Determining School Calendars for Public Schools in South Africa has been revised, and the Department of Basic Education has published the proposed modifications for public feedback.
The proposed changes attempt to give the minister of education and the department more flexibility in deciding the open and close times of each term and to mitigate differences between coastal and inland schools. They are being made in response to the three years of school disruptions brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic.
In particular, the proposed revisions wish to open the way for the removal of the staggered coastal/inland calendar and eliminate references to specific months when schools should close for the holidays after each term.
The significant modifications include:
- Rather than the customary second week of December, the fourth term must expire in the first week of December;
- removing references to certain months when periods should finish to provide flexibility;
- improved incorporation of public holidays;
- mentioning that a staggered calendar is still workable;
- granting minority students longer religious holidays (before, the maximum was two days);
- allowing for rapid deviations in response to emergencies or extreme circumstances;
- enabling the announcement and dissemination of approved changes via social media (before, this was only permitted in newspapers)
The present school calendar in South Africa has coastal schools beginning the new year one week later interior schools. As a result, coastal schools complete their first term with a shorter break than inland schools, which synchronizes for the remainder of the year.
But according to the department’s verified schedule for 2024, 2025, and 2026, schools will begin and end at the same time in both inland and coastal locations.
The department’s suggested modifications do not totally do away with the staggered calendar, however, as this would have an indirect effect on things like travel, traffic, and road safety.
The Department should design the school calendar in a way that will help minimize traffic flow related to school holidays, it added, “considering that the timing of school holidays could have an effect on traffic flow, which, in turn, has potential road safety implications.”
“The goal is to assign different dates to the two clusters in the first term so that traffic density is kept within acceptable levels before the start of schools for the new school year.”
Despite this, the policy stipulates that each cluster’s holiday schedule must be reasonably constant in order to facilitate short- to medium-term planning for everyone involved in education, including those who aren’t directly involved in it like the tourism industry, the general public, the private sector, the authorities in charge of traffic, parents, and students.
Making ensuring that school holidays are linked with as many public holidays as possible in order to maximize school time is another modification that has already been confirmed for 2024 and is being suggested for future calendars.
The Easter weekend’s dates vary from year to year, but according to the department, every effort should be made to make it coincide with a school holiday to avoid disrupting the schedule for teaching and learning.
When a long weekend starts on a public holiday that falls on a Friday and the weekend falls on the first day of the school break, schools are required to close on Wednesday rather than Thursday.
Schools must close on the previous Thursday and not on the following Friday if a public holiday falls on the first Monday of the school break.
Every effort must be taken, according to the department, to avoid scheduling a public holiday for the first or last week of a school term.
Public holidays that fall on the first or last week of a semester impede the school’s academic work, it stated.
The Monday before or the Friday after a public holiday that falls on a Tuesday or a Thursday must be designated as a school holiday.
In order to prevent a week from having only two school days due to April public and school holidays, those two days must be designated as school holidays.
Additionally, the department is accommodating extra annual religious holidays for particular students.
A maximum of two days per year may be set aside in schools when the majority of students practice a certain religion for religious holidays. This rule is still in effect.
The latest plans, however, wish to eliminate the two-day restriction in cases where students belong to a minority religious group in order to prevent any constitutional conflicts. They do this by removing any restrictions on the number of days a student can miss school for religious purposes if they belong to a minority religious organization.
According to the Constitution, “(these learners) may not be subjected to any form of disadvantage or discrimination,” the agency stated.
It is the responsibility of the school to make sure that all students make up any missed work if it closes for a religious holiday. The minority learners are responsible for making up any work they missed because they took a break.
Minority students must notify the school in writing within the first ten days of the school year of their intention to take certain days off for this reason. Schools are not permitted to schedule tests or assessments on these days.
Stakeholders can comment on the plans until June 4th.