PRESSURE is mounting on Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga to break her silence on demands for her ministry to shut down schools amid conflicting views by educational bodies including teachers unions.
The anxiety of pupils and teachers grew more this week as Motshekga and teacher unions failed to reach a consensus on some of the demands made.
Sadtu general secretary Mugwena Maluleke on Tuesday said all five unions met again with Motshekga on Monday but that the parties failed to reach an agreement.
Motshekga also on Tuesday admitted that she was facing various challenges when she delivered her adjusted budget vote in the National Council of Provinces (NCOP).
She told the NCOP that there were divergent views on whether schools should remain open or closed.
“The parents, who have displayed their confidence in the system by sending their children back to school, and those who do not have any other options, but to do so, who want us to keep the schools opened.
“There are pupils, who have written to me and the Department, pleading that we keep the schools open. We must state upfront that parents can choose whether to return their children to school or not; and if not, there are options that are provided for their children to learn at home so that they are not left behind with their education,” Motshekga said.
She added that there were very strong and loud voices for schools to close saying it was due to increased levels of Covid-19 infections in the communities, resulting in increased levels of panic, fear and anxiety among our communities.
“There reported high levels of psychological and emotional stress and restlessness among school communities about the perceived current or approaching peak or spike or outbreak of infections.
“Here are also reports that the health system in some parts of the country is showing signs of being overstretched. This becomes stark when cases of infections are reported at schools.”
According to Motshekga, there are also reports that the Standard Operating Procedures were not uniformly implemented adding that some schools were closed for three (3) days for deep cleaning, disinfection and fumigation, while others were closed for periods of up to, and sometimes more than a week.
“This makes principals more vulnerable, as communities continue to point at these discrepancies. The replacement of teachers and support staff who have to self-isolate or quarantine for the prescribed period, and those with comorbidities, is also proving to be problematic,” Motshekga said.
She, however, said of critical importance was that science had to influence decision-making and that she would make a final decision based on the professional advice from science, health and education experts.
Motshekga further informed the NCOP that she has tabled a consolidated report from the broad consultations to the Inter-Ministerial Disaster Management Committee, the National Covid-19 Command Council (NCCC) and Cabinet.
“We will soon announce the decisions and directives of the Cabinet on whether schools should remain opened or closed,” she said.
Despite Motshekga’s difficulties – the DA on Tuesday insisted that the Minister should announce the phased-in return of other remaining grades to school.
DA education spokesperson Nomsa Marchesi said no specific directions have been gazetted to this effect because the regulations did not specify when in July, the next official phasing in is expected to be on 3 August 2020.
“The public needs urgent answers from the Minister on when additional grades will return. With the growing calls from teachers’ unions for all schools to close, the Minister’s silence is only causing further panic, anxiety and confusion,” Marchesi said.
She further said: “With no teaching and learning taking place for the pupils that have not been phased in, the question then becomes, what plans do unions and all those who are calling for the closure of schools have to ensure that pupils are indeed learning while they are at home?
While the cabinet is expected to make a final decision, some pupils stayed away from school on Tuesday after the escalation of disruptions in various parts of the county including in Gauteng – which remains the epicentre of the virus.
As fears continue to grip the country, Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize has warned that KwaZulu-Natal was likely to surpass Gauteng.