WHEN schools reopen in Gauteng on August 24, many teachers might not be there.
MEC for Education Panyaza Lesufi said that more than 4 000 teachers over the age of 60 will not return to school as they pose the risk of getting severely ill from COVID-19.
In general, the coronavirus tends to affect more people over the age of 60 and ones who have previous medical conditions.
About 20% of teachers in South Africa are over 60, the age group which accounts for about 92% of deaths due to COVID-19.
In addition to age, the department of health lists asthma, chronic lung disease, diabetes, serious heart conditions, chronic kidney disease, severe obesity, immune-compromised conditions, and liver disease as among the risk factors for COVID-19.
Lesufi, who briefed the media on Friday during the Gauteng Coronavirus Command Council update, said 2 117 of these teachers are from primary schools, 1193 secondary and 389 from special schools.
“714 learners and 1671 educators had tested positive for COVID-19, as well as 165 staff members – which totals more than 2 500 COVID-19 cases the province’s education sector has recorded,” said Lesufi.
Lesufi said vulnerable teachers would be offered early retirement packages, especially those that are not fit to return to schools due to underlying medical conditions, such as asthma or diabetes.
“As a result we have received over 4000 applications of staff that have requested to work from home and of that, 2631 have been approved,” said Lesufi.
Lesufi said since schools reopened in June, before the initial four week break, the department embarked on a drive to find teachers to replace the ones that will not be able to return to work.
He said since matriculants returned to school, attendance by teachers started at 65%, increased to 73% and 78% in the past week alone.
According to Basic Education director-general, Mweli Mathanzima, the department had 18,791 educators who were 60 years and above.
Gauteng had the most numbers with 3,699 followed by KwaZulu-Natal with 3,055 and Northern Cape only had 738.
As the national conversation on safely reopening schools accelerates, experts and teachers unions have said that the best way to protect vulnerable teachers might be to not have them in school classrooms at all.
However, Basil Manuel, president of NAPTOSA, said the union does not support moves by government to offer retirement packages to teachers over the age 60 die to COVID-19.
“NAPTOSA is certainly not in support of lowering the retirement age,” said Manuel.
“We understand the difficulty of replacing so many teachers. However, the retirement age is sacrosanct. It is 65 and we certainly have never supported packages for teachers. We think something has gone completely wrong and we are unhappy how tardy the department is in replacing teachers because it should not be pushing people out of the system.”
(COMPILED BY INSIDE EDUCATION STAFF)