Push for changes at South African schools, as millions head back to class

The South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) says it has opposed a number of changes at South African schools as millions of students head back to school this week.

More than eight grades returned to school on Monday (24 August) after schools across the country were closed at the end of July to deal with a surge in coronavirus cases.

Sadtu, the country’s largest teachers union with more than 250,000 members, raised concerns about the return of these learners, and the capacity of schools to accept such a major influx in students.

With the opening of schools to nearly all grades on 24 August, the union said that the opening needed to be well managed to avoid straining the system.

Sadtu cited a joint teacher union survey on school readiness which shows that 11% of schools were struggling to construct a timetable because of constraints of space and teacher availability on 24 August.

“The DBE (Department of Basic Education) should have used the short break from the 27 July to fix all the problems to contribute in the suppression of the community transmissions,” it said.

The union’s national executive committee also outlined a number of other concerns, detailed below.

Push back matric exams

Sadtu said that many learners would not be in a position to fully prepare for the National Senior Certificate examinations, especially from disadvantaged communities because of the intermittent closing and opening of schools due to Covid-19.

The union said that levels of support differed from school to school based on the availability of infrastructure and resources.

Sadtu said it would urge the Basic Education Department to delay the start of examinations from 5 November to 26 November to allow learners more time to prepare for the examinations.

It said that the combination of the June and November examinations was bound to affect the marking process. This would require additional markers with an extended period of marking to ensure quality and reliability, it said.

Cutting of subjects 

Sadtu also ‘condemned’ the government’s plan to reduce the number of subjects for Grades 7 to 9 as part of trimming the curriculum.

“The unions and DBE had agreed that the curriculum should be trimmed for the short available time in the academic year due to Covid-19.

“Trimming of the curriculum meant that the academic year would be extended because the pandemic has disrupted the teaching and learning.”

However, Sadtu said that this did not mean that subjects should be reduced but content in subjects be reduced to focus on core concepts, skills, knowledge and attitudes.

The union said the dropping of subjects would be detrimental to the learners as it would narrow their subject options and choices when they enter the FET phase.

This would further widen the gap between the resourced and under-resourced schools as these will be forced to drop the subjects, it said.

“The Department want to make things easier for themselves at the expense of proper career pathing for the learners. The Department was also not clear on what would happen to the teachers whose subjects are dropped.”

Standardised testing 

Sadtu also criticised attempts by the DBE to impose standardised testing when learners return to school.

It said that the department should instead adopt assessments based on school-based teaching and learning plans.

“Teachers as professionals, should be allowed to use their professional judgement. It implored on members in provinces to be vigilant and monitor that no standardised tests were written.”

Read: Parts of the 2020 school curriculum have been pushed to 2021 – with a three-year plan to catch up lost time

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Push for changes at South African schools, as millions head back to class