Teachers fuming that their December holiday would be cut by half, from six to three weeks, have to accept the Basic Education Department’s decision, which was made final on Thursday, they were told.
Schools will close on Wednesday, December 12, for pupils, and on Friday, December 14, for teachers. Schools will re-open on Monday, January 7, for teachers and on Wednesday, January 9, for pupils.
This means pupils will have 16 working days off, excluding public holidays, and teachers just 12 days off before returning to school in January.
Teachers’ unions said despite voicing their frustrations and making it clear that they were not prepared to sacrifice their longest holiday of the year when they were asked to comment on the draft calendar, their unhappiness had fallen on deaf ears.
Basic Education spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said the department had the prerogative to proceed.
“This is an administrative matter. We are not changing the policy. People have a right to be upset, but we also have a job to do in the interests of the country,” he said.
Mhlanga said the shorter December holiday would be a one-off occasion because the objective would have been met, saying the usual December holidays would apply next year.
The Council of Education Ministers made the decision to close schools early to ensure that the matric exam marking processes did not have a negative impact on teaching time.
Mhlanga said the marking of exam papers would start on December 1, and would finish on December 14. He said they wanted schools to close before marking commenced.
Thirona Moodley of the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa, said teachers were not only inconvenienced, but were extremely unhappy.
Moodley said teachers were up in arms especially after the department issued the final circular confirming the short holiday without considering their needs.
She said the December holiday was the only time teachers had a chance to relax and go away.
“Teachers have just finished preparations for the exams. They have, throughout the year, dedicated their after-hours, weekends and winter holidays to provide winter classes for the Grade 12s. Now that the final circular has been issued, teachers have been left with no choice,” she said.
Bheki Shandu, deputy secretary of the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union, said teachers had already made holiday plans earlier in the year and would now be forced to cut them short.
“The department announced this year that adjustments would be made to the school calendar and, as a result, the holidays would be shortened. It seems like there is nothing we can do about it now. We appeal to the department to ensure that in future teachers are warned about these changes early,” he said.
Matakanye Matakanya, of the National Association of School Governing Bodies, said they were against the new arrangement if it was going to become permanent.
“Schools should ensure that admissions are done this year. The department has the responsibility to plan to minimise glitches at the beginning of next year,” he said.
While the unions said they were unclear about the need for the change, Mhlanga said the department needed to create time to process matric results, and they had identified a need for schools to open early next year.
He said they also wanted to avoid conflict between learning and marking time.
“The teachers who will be marking matric scripts are required to be at school. These teachers will have to finish everything first before marking can start,” he said.
Unions said this did not make sense, as matric marking would have begun two weeks before schools closed.