Unions warn that schools are not ready to reopen in South Africa: report

Teachers unions have warned that South Africa’s schools may not be ready to open as planned, as the third Covid-19 wave continues to impact the country.

All schools were closed for contact learning at the end of June in line with the country’s adjusted level 4 lockdown, with a return date set for 19 July.

With this now 12 days away, teacher unions have warned that the schools are likely to miss this start date due to the high rate of infections.

The South African Teachers’ Union (SAOU) told News24 that it would advise schools to start looking at other options, such as online teaching and learning, so as not to lose time.

The union will also push for a risk-adjusted and differentiated return to teaching, which means that a full return to teaching on 19 July is unlikely.

These concerns were echoed by the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa (Naptosa), which said that a decision was likely to be taken at the end of this week.

“We are saying, if all things being equal, if we are still in the situation we are in now by the time we get to this weekend, then we have to start meeting urgently to reflect on whether the 19th is possible,” said Naptosa executive director Basil Manuel.

Weekly review 

On Monday (5 July), the Department of Basic Education said that there has been no change to its plans to reopen schools on 19 July 2021 but that it continues to monitor the impact of Covid-19.

Ministerial spokesperson Hope Mokgatlhe said that the department currently conducts a review once a week to see if it needs to update its plans.

She said that this takes place alongside the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) meeting, which is set to meet later this week to discuss whether to extend the country’s adjusted level 4 lockdown past 11 July.

Mokgatlhe said that, ultimately, any decisions around the reopening schools and the general lockdown would be made by the NCCC, which the department would follow.

However, she confirmed that no changes had been made as yet, with discussions set to be held on Wednesday and Thursday this week.

Economists at the Bureau for Economic Research (BER) have warned that government is likely to extend its adjusted level 4 regulations given the significant rise in Covid-19 cases across the country.

In a research note this week, the group pointed to the previous week of data which shows that South Africa saw record-high increases in daily new infections of above 24,000 on Friday and Saturday.

South Africa also frequents the global top-10 list of daily new cases per country, and with vaccination rates low, also registers high daily increases in Covid-related deaths.

President Cyril Ramaphosa moved South Africa to a level 4 lockdown at the end of June for a two week period.  Ramaphosa said that these regulations would be reviewed by 11 July.

Read: Reopening of schools in South Africa is being reviewed weekly: government

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Unions warn that schools are not ready to reopen in South Africa: report