‘we are opening schools knowing full well that the worst is still to come.’
The National Teachers Union (Natu) has expressed concern over Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga announcing yesterday that pupils in grades 12 and 7 are expected return to school on June 1.
With more than 5 000 confirmed Covid-19 cases in the country and over 100 fatalities, as opposed to only 61 infection cases and no fatalities in March, Natu believes “the risk of school-based infections is likely to be much higher now than when the schools were ordered to close”.
Natu is of the opinion that the decision to reopen schools on June 1 appears to be “necessitated by considerations other than the national state of disaster”. It has stipulated certain conditions that need to be met before it would support the reopening of schools.
Motshekga did stress this was a provisonal plan and dependent on all the correct protocols being put in place to ensure the safety of pupils and staff.
“At the moment, confirmed cases continue to rise daily – and at a very high rate, while the peak is estimated for September. So, we are opening schools knowing full well that the worst is still to come,” Natu said.
“Accordingly, it appears that the Education Department is now shifting goalposts. There are now different drivers behind the revised school calendar, rather than the corona-induced state of the national disaster.
“Initially, it was quite clear that the growth in the number of new infections was the key driver to determine the decision to close or open schools. Now, this appears not to be the case.
“Over the past month, or so, Natu has been in constant communication with the two Education ministers about the reopening of education institutions and has made meaningful contributions and inputs, based on contextual factors and hoping that the ministers would give the inputs due consideration.
“We are pleased to see that the Minister of Higher Education and Training has taken our inputs seriously and is guarded on the timetable for reopening universities for contact tuition.
“The minister of Basic Education, on the other hand, appears to still want to stick to her original plans. However, if she is sincere about using May, and perhaps more time, for planning and ensuring that all the conditions for a safe return of learners, teachers and administrative staff are in place, then we’re probably on the right track.
“What will be vital is to ensure that all schools are inspected, not only at the beginning but on an ongoing basis, to ensure that there is sustainability and consistency is meeting all the necessary safety and health conditions.
“The state of readiness should also apply to the rehabilitation of the schools that were looted, torched and vandalised during the Level 5 lockdown.”
Natu noted its appreciation of Motshekga’s stance on the following issues, saying once all these conditions have been met, it will be very happy to support the reopening of schools.
* We are happy that the minister has committed herself to keeping low class numbers, hopefully not more than 20 learners per class, with one learner per desk to allow a reasonable distance between desks;
* We are pleased with the minister’s commitment to the recruitment of additional and substitute teachers in respect to vacant posts and teachers who may not be able to go to school on account of age or comorbidities;
* We are pleased about the minister’s commitment to recruiting additional administrative and support workers, especially to deal with security and deep-cleaning and maintenance of healthy and safe environments;
* We are pleased about the minister’s commitment to ensure that schools will only open when there is running water and the requisite mobile classrooms to alleviate overcrowding, where this is necessary;
* We are pleased with the minister’s commitment to ensuring that schools will only reopen when all the hygiene and sanitation packages have been delivered.
* Finally, we wish to emphasise the importance of orientating teachers to the screening, isolation and quarantine protocols in all categories of schools – rural, semi-urban and urban schools.
* More clarity is also required concerning the feeding scheme, given that serving cooking meals is not allowed during Level 4 lockdown.