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Chaos At Schools As Teachers Stay Away

NYAKALLO TEFU, MASHUDU SADIKE, LUCAS LEDWABA, SANDILE MOTHA AND THEBE MABANGA

Over 65% of teachers, including principals and school management teams, did not show up at schools on Monday following calls by teachers’ unions to stay away over coronavirus fears and lack of personal protective equipment in provinces.

According to Muguena Maluleke, the General Secretary of the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union, the majority of teachers stayed away because the Department of Basic Education failed to deliver personal protective equipment (PPEs) at various provinces across the country, saying it’s too risky for everyone and could cause a spike in infections.

“In brief I can say due to the fact that schools have not been cleaned and that there was no delivery of materials, not all schools have really had a good attendance,” said Maluleke.

 “What we are seeing is a situation where the departmental officials and the minister do not believe that the virus is still around, that is why they are not taking the issue of the safety and health of the workers and learners seriously.”

Maluleke said the majority of teachers in provinces simply did not pitch because it is not yet safe to do so.

“In Limpopo no one attended because the schools are not cleaned. In Gauteng only principals and not the SMT’s, in certain instances we went to schools and found that the schools were not cleaned. In North West if there is attendance, it’s very few schools,” said Maluleke.  

“In KZN no school is working, they are just delivering material at schools. The department has hired some trucks to deliver those materials to schools. In the Eastern Cape, principals are there but not all schools to receive PPEs. In the Free State the same.”

SADTU, the biggest union in the education and public service sector, also said it was unlikely that schools will be ready to accept learners on the 1st of June.

The decision not to report for duty comes after Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga announced last week that teachers would start returning from 25 May, meaning they will have a week to prepare before the first learners arrive back at schools on the 1st of June.

The move by Motshekga has since drawn the ire of teachers’ unions, parents associations and civil society organizations.

The unions, parents associations and civil society organizations say they are unconvinced by Motshekga’s plan to re-open schools because it is simply not safe and feasible to implement at this stage.

The coronavirus outbreak forced President Cyril Ramaphosa to close all schools on March 18 as part of government measures to contain the spread of COVID-19.

NAPTOSA’s President Basil Manuel said many schools in the country have not been sanitized and their members were unable to receive PPEs as promised by the minister.

“We are not happy because in fact some of our members have been sitting and waiting the entire day at the school and nothing has arrived, they can’t even go in because some schools have not been sanitized,” said Manuel.

“The North West Province seems to have done a lot more today than they have ever done.  KwaZulu Natal seems to be moving but at a slow pace. The Eastern Cape and Free State is covering a large section but still far from completion. The Northern Cape is battling to get out its starting blocks. When it comes to Gauteng the vast majority of schools have their PPEs but there are a lot of schools that haven’t been cleaned yet, same applies to the Western Cape.”

National Teachers Union president Allen Thompson said they have told their members not to return to work on Monday.

“What is important to note is that in KwaZulu Natal they have postponed the return of teachers until Thursday this week. In other provinces they have postponed indefinitely, like Mpumalanga. There is an official circular that has been released that says teacher must stay at home until further notice,” said Thompson.  

“COVID-19 is exposing the problems that educators a faced with throughout their schooling system.  Some schools don’t have windows or doors. There was no proper delivery of hygiene and sanitation material. In Gauteng, we visited almost 52 schools at the weekend and the majority of schools where the hygiene and sanitation material were delivered you find that they were not enough.”

State of readiness in provinces as of Monday 25 May 2020

KWAZULU NATAL PROVINCE

Less than 20 schools in KwaZulu -Natal stand ready to reopen for the 2020 academic intervention programme and the majority of them are schools previously classified as Model C.

This is a shocking revelation by the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) recapping on the school’s state of readiness where teaching and learning is expected to resume next week after a two months forced closure. 

“We did our own research and consulted our leaders in different districts and we arrived at a conclusion that schools are not ready to accept teachers and leaners. Water tanks have not been delivered to schools where they don’t have any water supply. Besides this, protective equipment is not sufficient and disinfectants and other crucial supplies have not been delivered,” said Sadtu provincial secretary NomaRussia Caluza.

Caluza said the process can take up to a month to complete as there must be an audit and verification process to match the items delivered against the ratio of teachers and leaners at a school. 

On Sunday, KwaZulu -Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala announced a u-turn on the provinces’s initial plan to reopen schools for all academic staff which was scheduled for Monday this week. This sudden change of heart, Zikalala said, was as a result of a delay in the delivery of the supplies such as sanitisers and protective clothing from the districts to schools. He said the provincial cabinet had instead resolved that academic staff will go back to schools on Thursday this week.

Caluza however said this plan was impractical as only 20 schools were ready.

“We will monitor and make our own assessment before pronouncing whether to go back to school or not. The schools who stand ready are less than 20 in the province and they used their own money to purchase the required supplies. These schools are former Model C schools, other schools are far from ready,” added Caluza.

Caluza’s call was also supported by another teacher union, the National Teachers Union (Natu) who said they had encouraged their members never to set foot in schools where health and safety protocols has not been implemented.

LIMPOPO PROVINCE

Limpopo school principals have been left frustrated on Monday following disorder in the government’s delivery of PPE’s ahead of the school’s reopening, after being temporarily closed for nearly two months due to the COVID-19 virus.

Feedback on the ground has painted a bleak picture for the resumption of schools as PPE’s availability suggested massive challenges for the province which has had headmasters across the province in a panic.

By 10 am this morning Masebudi High School, Bokamoso High and Phoshoko Primary in Seshego, outside Polokwane, had still not received all the PPEs required for the resumption of schooling in contrast of the government’s promise to have delivered by Monday morning.

Almost 40 000 teachers are expected to  resume work in Limpopo following Motshekga’s announcement last week.

School management teams that include principals were set to resume their duties to prepare for the teachers arrival tomorrow, but spent most of the morning waiting for the arrival of PPEs when they were eventually informed to receive PPE’s from Capricorn High School in town.

“This must be the worst welcome back to school ever. The Department looks to be in disarray across the province. I’ve been told there is no school that has received all the PPEs required. How am I to explain that to the teachers and the Unions who have to come back to work tomorrow?” said one principal, who preferred to stay anonymous.

SADTU has made it clear that if PPEs were not delivered by Monday teachers would not be reporting for duty.

 “In our view, the province is not ready for the re-opening of schools. We will gather evidence regarding the state of readiness by the department. The province will develop a non-negotiable check-list on a daily basis and if we satisfied we will release the teachers to go to work,” Said Sadtu Limpopo in a statement.

Spokesperson for the Limpopo Department of Education, Tidimalo Chuene said while the department understood their concerns the department was doing its best to get the classes ready for the resumption of schooling.

“All is in order so far as the PPEs we have been expecting have arrived and will be delivered to the schools, Teaches should be ready to return to school tomorrow,” Chuene said.

GAUTENG PROVINCE

Lyndhurst primary school was one of the schools Inside Education passed by on Monday morning, where staff could be seen sitting in a circle, adhering to social distancing regulations while having a meeting.

Gauteng MEC for Education Panyaza Lesufi on Monday visited Bryanston High School in Johannesburg to check the state of readiness at the school.

“The school must receive Personal Protective Equipment first and then they can invite teachers to come back, so they might come back today or even tomorrow”, said Lesufi.

Lesufi said there are teacher unions who are advising their members not to report for duty if there are no PPEs.

 “What is encouraging is that we have met all of them, we have agreed on a process and where they are encouraging their members not to come, we do not think it is a serious matter because a it is due to PPE’s and that will be dealt with,” said Lesufi.

Lesufi said the school was not yet open for contact teaching and learning but all learners will be accommodated.

“If there are parents who want to home school their children, we are making that provision for them, we have shifted the closing date for applications for home schooling to September 2020”, said Lesufi.

He added that parents will be offered assistant in how to go about with home schooling.

Thabo Nyoni, a principal at Phulong Secondary School in Kwa Thema, says he has started receiving PPEs and is awaiting decontamination services. The equipment he has received includes masks, soaps and sanitizers, thermometer and is currently sufficient for management.

Nyoni is expecting delivery for staff in the next few days before two masks each for learners are delivered before the end of the month.  Of five schools visited or contacted by Inside Education, two have been contaminated over the weekend and started receiving equipment while two more have taken delivery of equipment. Only one had not received equipment or deep cleaned upon being contacted on Monday mid morning.  

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