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Teachers, pupils in limbo over returning to school

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There is news of our President calling on Minister Angie Motshekga to cancel the school year. That is not true, please do not fall prey to fake news. When in doubt check the source, and confirm the news via reputable news sites.”

File image. Picture: Courtney Africa/African News Agency

Millions of school children are in limbo following an impasse between Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga and teachers’ unions over their demand of a total shutdown of schooling due to the spiralling Covid-19 pandemic.

Controversy grew more as fake news circulated on social media that President Cyril Ramaphosa was due to address the nation at 8pm on Sunday night but the government was quick to dismiss the alert as fake news.

On Saturday, Motshekga’s spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga also dismissed reports that Ramaphosa had ordered the Minister to cancel schooling.

Mhlanga wrote: “There is news of our President  calling on Minister Angie Motshekga to cancel the school year. That is not true, please do not fall prey to fake news. When in doubt check the source, and confirm the news via reputable news sites.”

On Sunday night, however, Mhlanga was not available to confirm whether the education department would go ahead with organising the return of Grade 3 and 10 to school following an announcement to phase in other grades gradually to school.

While there is uncertainty about the return of these grades to schools, union leaders were still awaiting Motshekga’s response to their demand following their meeting at the weekend which had no outcome.

In KwaZulu-Natal, Independent Media has seen a circular from the KwaZulu-Natal department informing education management, including principals and school governing bodies, that it had suspended phasing in more grades. 

“The Minister specified a number of other Grades that should be phased-in on the 20th July 2020. This circular is therefore issued as confirmation that no additional Grades should be phased-in during the month of July until schools are formally directed by the Head of Department (Dr Vusumuzi Nzama),” read the circular signed by Dr Nzama.

According to teachers unions leaders – Motshekga promised that she would present their demands to the cabinet, the nine provincial MECs for education and the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) before making any final decision on the matter.

By late on Sunday, union leaders said Motshekga had not responded to their call following her consultation with cabinet on Saturday.

SAOU executive director Chris Klopper urged teachers to report for duty while waiting for Motshekga’s report. Klopper, however, said his union was not in favour of the closure saying Motshekga must provide “scientific evidence” that it was in the best interest of teachers and pupils to close schools.

Other unions, however, were still hopeful that Motshekga would heed to their call. Naptosa’s executive director Basil Manuel said his union was still also waiting for Motshekga to respond.

“It will be normal schooling on Monday until the Minister reacts to our demands. We did not expect her to announce that there will be no schooling on Monday. Teachers still have various things to do before closing the schools. We are expecting her response this week,”  Manuel said.

Sadtu was still locked in the meeting at the time of going to press.   

National Teachers’ Union president Alan Thompson said their meeting with Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga did not have an “outcome.”

Thompson said all unions had unanimously stated to Motshekga that schools should be closed with immediate effect.

“We also asked the Minister to assist teachers with devices to allow them to have non-contact with their learners. They can provide teachers with data or laptops so they must continue teaching while the peak is continuing,” Thompson said.

He, however, said priority should be given to Grade 12’s saying they should be allowed to return to school early after the peak had subsided.

According to Thompson, teachers also raised concerns about a number of schools in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo and Mpumalanga which were unable to open due to lack of water and running toilets.

“Those were unable to open as they were not Covid-19 compliant. They had no personal protective equipment. We told the Minister she should provide water tanks and mobile toilets to the schools. We offered to assist them with learning to allow them to sit for exams. Some of the affected pupils are Grade 12’s,” Thompson said. 

He said that Motshekga had promised to reply to their demands after consulting with cabinet, the nine provincial MECs for education and the NCCC.