The National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa (Naptosa) says teachers are panicking about going back to full-time attendance at primary schools end July.
The union’s executive director, Basil Manuel, said teachers are concerned about overcrowded classrooms, the looming third wave, and the Department of Basic Education (DBE) ‘s ability to supply proper and sufficient PPE.
The concern comes after the announcement by DBE Minister Angie Motshekga on Friday that her department has gazetted that primary school learners from Grades R to 7 must return to the daily attendance and traditional timetabling model from 26 July and that all learners from Grade R to Grade 12 from special education needs school must also return to school everyday on the same date.
Motshekga’s gazette comes amid rising Covid-19 infections across the country.
President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday announced that the country has been moved to Adjusted Level two following an increase in Covid-19 infection rates.
Ramaphosa said over the last seven days, we have seen an average of 3,745 daily new infections. He said this is an increase of 31% on the previous week, and an increase of 66% on the week before that.
The president said the provinces of Free State, Northern Cape, North West and Gauteng have reached the threshold of a third wave of infections. And that it may only be a matter of time before the country as a whole will have entered a third wave.
Ramaphosa said the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Covid-19 has as a result recommended that the country urgently implement further restrictions to limit the increase in infections.
“The committee bases this recommendation on the sustained increase in new cases in the last 14 days, increased hospital admissions in almost all provinces and an increase in the proportion of Covid tests that are positive.
“Further restrictions are necessary to ensure that health facilities are not overwhelmed and that lives that could be saved are not lost,” said Ramaphosa.
Because of the surge in infections, the Council of Education Ministers in May took the decision to suspend all contact sports in schools with immediate effect. The decision was taken in a meeting held on 19 May 2021.
Dr Granville Whittle, acting Director-General for DBE said it was evident that despite following the protocols as guided by the Directions on extramural activities and Standard Operating Procedures, contact sport events still contribute to the spread of Covid -19.
“In this regard, all contact sport activities have been suspended with immediate effect until the cluster outbreaks are contained and the country has emerged from the expected third wave of the Covid -19 pandemic,” said Whittle at the time.
This is why it is surprising to some that Motshekga and her department have taken the decisions to amend the Directions regarding the re-opening of schools.
Manuel said as a result of this, teachers who suffer from comorbidities are in a state of panic.
“The spectre of a large cohort of children back at school sends fears into them notwithstanding the fact that our experts are telling us that the children in the primary school are not really infected or infectious,” said Manuel.
He added that Naptosa understands the rationale for amendment of rules but the union is concerned about this.
“We acknowledge that there are serious backlogs, particularly in your grades 1, 2 and 3s with a large cohort of grade 2s still being unable to read.
“At the same time, we have to raise the issues of the department’s ability to supply sufficient and quality PPE as well as the looming third wave,” said Manuel.
Educators Union of South Africa provincial chairperson André de Bruyn said in just two weeks after the DBE announced the immediate suspension of all contact sport, they gazetted that all primary school learners should return to full capacity.
De Bruyn said full classes means more contact.
“Does that not defeat the purpose of social distancing? In reality it is extremely difficult to make learners follow protocols throughout the day,” he said.
The South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu)’s Xolani Fakude said they fully support the department’s directive but the health and safety of learners and staff should come forst.
“We will be monitoring schools to ensure that they follow the Covid-19 regulations because the number of cases continue to rise and we do not want to put the lives of learners and educators at risk,” said Fakude.
Fakude said Sadtu has also called for the mass vaccination of educators.
Last week Sadtu general secretary Mugwena Maluleke urged all its eligible members to get vaccinated. This is because there is still no information on when wall teachers will become eligible for the jab.
Maluleke said the union believed that teachers would be the next group vaccinated after healthcare workers and that the vaccine rollout has been confusing.
“We are demanding for a date for teacher vaccinations to take place and we encourage teachers to register,” he said.
The DBE spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said the department has time to monitor schools and ensure learners and teachers return to a safe environment in July.
“As off Monday, we will be meeting with provincial departments to make sure that all Covid-19 regulations are adhered to and schools are ready to accommodate all grade R to 7 learners,” said Mhlanga.
Mhlanga said they have the whole of June to prepare effectively.
Extra reporting by Nyakallo Tefu.