Schools in South Africa need two more months to get ready: union

The South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) says South Africa’s schools are nowhere close to being ready to resume classes from 1 June 2020.

Basic Education minister Angie Motshekga said in a televised address on Tuesday (19 May), that the first schools will open from 1 June – including public and private schools.

“Independent and public ordinary schools will open even in the metropolitan areas. Every school must adhere and observe the health and safety protocols that will be put in place. We will start with grades 7 and 12 and small schools. The other grades will follow in due course,” said the minister.

Ahead of the return of learners, school management teams and teachers will arrive at schools on the 25 May, and will receive full training about health and safety standards.

Government placed all education institutions on early recess from 15 March after president Cyril Ramaphosa declared the coronavirus pandemic a national disaster.

Parents and teachers have raised concerns about the health aspects of sending their children to school, most notably relating to social distancing. Many parents have said that they are prepared to forfeit the school year, rather than to risk the health of their child.

Parents can choose to keep their children at home, deputy minister Makgabo Mhaule said, adding that she encourages home schooling.

And Mothshekga said that government is committed to ensuring that students, teachers and support staff are safe.

Mothshekga said that in preparation for the reopening of schools, delivery of Covid-19 essentials such as sanitisers, masks, water and sanitation is currently underway in schools across the country.

Not good enough

South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) general secretary Mugwena Maluleke said in an interview with ENCA on Wednesday (20 May) that the union is not satisfied with the education department’s plan to get school kids back on classes from June.

“We believe the first of June is too early for what we have seen in the plans. We are not convinced they will be able to meet all the preconditions laid out in the Covid-19 regulations,” he said.

Key among Sadtu’s concerns are schools’ readiness to follow social distancing guidelines, and for government to adequately supply schools with masks and sanitiser products.

Maluleke said that to comply with social distancing requirements, there has to be a maximum of 20 learners per class.

“This class size will not be maintained. This is the question that has to be taken back to the department, to ask if they are really ready to be able to maintain this particular class size,” he said.

He said that the union also conducted a survey among thousands of schools on their state of readiness, and the findings were less than optimistic.

It found that seven out of South Africa’s nine provinces are far from being ready, with a particular problem being in rural and township schools where water and ablution facilities are unavailable.

Nearly three quarter (64%) of the 3,400 surveyed were found to have no water – while 87% reported having no ablution facilities.

Even in the Western Cape and Gauteng, which are most ready, there are shortfalls. Maluleke said that while these provinces are ready for delivery of masks for teachers – there are not enough masks for learners.

“Schools need more than two months to prepare thoroughly,” he said, adding that readiness needs to be measured on the standards of township and rural schools, not those in wealthy suburbs.

Sadtu is not alone in its criticism of government’s announcement, with other unions expressing dissatisfaction at the lack of detail around the plans.

National Teachers’ Union president Allen Thompson pointed out that Motshekga made no mention of how and when additional teachers would be recruited to assist with overcrowding, or how teacher availability will function.

Suid-Afrikaanse Onderwysersunie (SAOU) CEO Chris Klopper said the department gave no reasons why Grade 7 and 12 are the only pupils being phased in and there is little clarity on how small and special schools will be dealt with.

The Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools (Fedsas), the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa (Naptosa) and the National Alliance of Independent Schools Associations (Naisa) also expressed misgivings around the department’s plans – and around provincial readiness.

Motshekga said that further details will follow once the official directives have been gazetted. The new school calendar is expected to be gazetted before the end of the month.


Read: New start date for the reopening of schools in South Africa

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Schools in South Africa need two more months to get ready: union