Irate education teacher’s unions on Tuesday accused Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga of misleading the public about consultations on the return to work by school management teams (SMTs) and the subsequent reopening of schools. .
This comes only a day after Motshekga held virtual meetings with governing body associations as well as teacher unions on Monday.
In a fiery joint statement issued on Tuesday night, the country’s five teachers’ unions said Motshekga had promised in previous meetings to deliver all non-negotiables to ensure safety at schools on Level 4 of the Covid-19 lockdown, but this has not happened.
The non-negotiables include, among others, the fumigation and disinfection of schools, proper school infrastructure in the form of proper toilet facilities, observance of social distancing inside the classrooms, reduction of class sizes, provision of sanitizers, screening of learners, teachers and social distancing in the transportation of learners to and from schools.
“The rush to announce dates before assessing the practical situation is damaging to the reputation of the education system. It’s eroding public confidence, and this has to stop,” said the teachers’ unions in a joint statement signed by National Teachers Union (NATU), South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU), National Professional Teachers of South Africa (NAPTOSA), Professional Educators Union (PEU) and Suid-Afrikaanse Onderwysers Unie (SAOU).
“The only date agreed upon was the 18th for the SMTs to fully report for duty and any other tentative date would be considered, based on the readiness check list.”
SMTs were meant to return to schools from Monday, 11 May to prepare for pupils’ phasing in.
However, the unions said only two provinces, Gauteng and the Western Cape, were ready to receive the SMTs by May 13 and not earlier as announced by Motshekga.
Members of SMTs are tasked with determining if teachers and support personnel can return to work under safe conditions.
“The unions … emphatically told the minister that even the two provinces claiming to be ready were not ready, if they are going to use the SMTs members as screeners. The meeting agreed to use the whole of this week to allow the provinces to comply with the non-negotiables. To avoid confusion, we agreed that the schools must be having the essentials such as the PPEs, sanitisers and education support personnel to help the SMTs to prepare to receive the teachers,” they said.
The unions said Motshekga’s rush to announce dates before assessing the practical situation was damaging to the reputation of the education system.
“It’s eroding public confidence, and this has to stop. The meeting agreed to have a weekly meeting to receive reports and monitor progress,” they said.
“Education Trade Unions had a ‘consultation’ meeting with Minister of Basic Education on the 11th May as agreed in the last meeting of the 26 April 2020. The meeting received a one week’s progress report which was noted. We have noted the report and agreed to allow the Minister 24 hours to provide a summary of issues the unions have raised. We wish to correct the impression created by the statement attributed to the DBE’s spokesperson that the unions were consulted and agreed on the plan.”
Motshekga is expected to address the nation on Thursday to provide details of the final dates and detailed plans for the phased approach to the possible reopening of schools.
Cabinet is also scheduled to sit on Wednesday where it is expected that the Recovery Plan of the education sector will also be discussed.
The unions said Motshekga’s announcement to address the nation on Thursday was premature and ill-advised because consultations about the state of readiness were ongoing and still far from being concluded.
“We wish to state that for the Minister to address the nation before addressing all the areas that are still not compliant, will further erode the confidence in the public education system,” said the unions.
They also stressed the need for a single national calendar for public and private schools, and vehemently rejected the idea of a phased approach to provinces and schools reopening.
“We placed on record our concern at the increasing infection rate in the country and the impact this could have on the schools returning,” said the unions.
“The manner in which the department is conducting itself on the consultations is causing trust deficit with the unions and this must be addressed. The DBE must desist from misleading the public about unions having agreed on everything. We all want to see a smooth reopening of the schools.”