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NC dept still has work to do before ‘full-time’ return of pupils – unions

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Teacher unions say that while they understand that one-on-one classroom teaching is vital, the safety of pupils must come first.

File picture: Jacques Naude/African News Agency (ANA)

AS THE national Department of Education prepares for all primary school pupils to return to class on a full-time basis, starting on Monday, August 2, teacher unions in the Northern Cape said that the provincial department still has a lot of work to do before this can happen.

The South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) and the Suid-Afrikaanse Onderwysers Unie (SAOU) in the Northern Cape said that they welcomed the return of all pupils, but only if all Covid-19 protocols are adhered to at all times.

Sadtu provincial chairperson Senzo Mpalala said on Thursday that while they understand that one-on-one classroom teaching is vital, the safety of pupils must not be put at risk.

Mpalala said there are various challenges facing the provincial department that need to be addressed.

“Considering that the vaccination process of teachers did not conclude as expected and we have major challenges of infrastructure that still need to be attended to in some areas, the Northern Cape, especially previously disadvantaged schools, will not be able to adhere to the Covid-19 protocols that the department stated should be implemented at all times,” said Mpalala.

“The departments said that schools should adhere to social distancing inside the classrooms and that the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) plus sanitisers should be made available at schools. Our classrooms in the Province are overcrowded, which will make it difficult for children to adhere to social distancing inside the classrooms as well as on the school grounds.

“The Province also has a challenge with additional teachers. If they should decide to split a class of 40 learners in half, they cannot split the teacher and one half of the class will be left without a teacher.”

Mpalala said the department also needs to ensure that they appoint sufficient additional support staff.

“The department needs to ensure that there are enough screeners and cleaners at schools. Those positions are filled by contract workers and there were instances previously where the contracts of the cleaners and screeners were not renewed by the department.”.

The provincial secretary of the SAOU, Henk Brand, said that all standard operating procedures must be adhered to.

“The procedures are still the same as previously. The challenge, however, is that these protocols will now have to be adhered to with classes full of learners. If those protocols are not in place, the schools will not be able to operate,” said Brand.

He added that teachers have done their part by getting vaccinated and it is now up to the department to ensure that everything is in order.

“There are many teachers who have been vaccinated and it is now up to the employer to ensure that the workplace is safe to operate in. Teachers want to be back in the classroom teaching but the department also needs to do their part.

Northern Cape Department of Education spokesperson Lehuma Ntuane said the department noted the challenges and will address them accordingly.

“We are mindful that all schools must meet the Covid-19 protocols and there should be enough space for learners in a classroom in order for them to adhere to the social distance requirement. All of our schools will be able to receive all learners. We have advised schools where there might be a challenge with space inside the classrooms to utilise their school halls. There are also some schools who will be provided with furniture. All schools also have running water through boreholes. Schools who do not have access to water will be provided with water tanks. The department will be working with the local municipalities to ensure the schools have running water,” said Ntuane.

He added that the department is working in partnership with the provincial Department of Health to monitor infections at schools.

“In the past we had Covid-19 infections at schools. The full return of learners is dependent on the advice from the National Command Council and the number of infections at schools. If there is a spike in infections at schools, learners might have to continue with the rotation timetable. However, we are working with the Health Department to manage and monitor the infections and other Covid-19-related matters.”

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