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Friday, June 18, 2021

‘Schools cannot open if all health protocols are not in place’ say teachers and parents

NALEDI SHOTA|

Teachers and parents want the Department of Basic Education (DBE)  to use the month of June to ensure that primary schools and special education needs schools have all the resources required to allow for the full-time return of learners back in class. 

On 26 July all primary school learners and all learners in special education needs schools are expected to return back to class full-time, as opposed to the rotation system that has been in place since last year. This was gazetted by DBE Minister Angie Motshekga last month. 

Speaking to Inside Education on Monday, General Secretary for the National Association of School Governing Bodies (NASGB) Matakanye Matakanye said the move for all primary school learners to return to school was, in part, initiated by parents because they saw their children are losing out on a lot of teaching time. 

“We saw that in future they will be referred to as the lost generation. When they go to school once a week and skip the next week, when they return, they have already forgotten what they did last week,” said Matakanye. Adding that because it is not clear when the pandemic will end, children cannot be kept at home forever. 

READ: The Northern Cape sees sharp increases in Covid-19 infections in schools

In the gazette, Motshekga said the head of department must provide all reasonable support to enable the safe return of learners to the traditional timetable. 

Matakanye said the NASGB called on the department of basic education to put all measures in place that will continue to save the children and teachers from Covid-19. 

“We thought that they would have put mobile classes by now to add on the classes that are already there … What we are also thinking is that  they could put shields around the desks , like those from the chemists, a shield that will protect this child against this child. 

“They must not lose any step from now. From now onwards all steps to ensure that our children are protected must be put in place,” he said. 

The gazette had suggested that learners can also be taught outside, where practicable, but even in this case all health and safety measures on Covid-19 must be followed. 

The DBE also said schools need to use all the available space to prevent overcrowding in a classroom. 

READ: “We are at risk. They do not care about us” – Free State Teacher

Before the opening of schools last year in June, following the hard lockdown, the five unions represented in the Education Labour Relations Council including the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu), the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa, the National Teachers’ Union, the South African Teachers’ Union and the Professional Educators Union released a statement with non-negotiables before schools could be opened.

These included the need for proper infrastructure which includes toilets and classrooms, the provision of sanitizers, masks and soap, personnel available for screening and the reduction of class sizes. 

On Monday Sadtu General Secretary Mugwena Maluleke told Inside Education that the non-negotiables would remain until the pandemic is over. 

“Returning all primary school and special needs education learners to school obviously depended on those things,” he said. 

Already the DBE has flagged some of the issues raised by the teacher unions as what is “likely to compromise” the compliance of schools with health protocols. 

In parliament last week, the department said there were 14 issues that may make schools not ready and these include:  adequate water, sanitation, hygiene packages, screeners and the provision of Covid-19 essentials.

Maluleke said if the non-negotiables were not in place then schools could not open. 

“Teachers must not be overburdened when the state is not providing the necessary resources. Teachers are already at school but the issue is how do you support them to ensure that there is  still social distance, enough sanitizers for everyone and screeners and so forth. So June must be used to assess whether the schools are going to be ready,” he said. 

The DBE told the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education last week that Director-General Mathanzima Mweli will start weekly one-on-one engagements with provinces to see their readiness and also that on a weekly basis , provinces will be expected to report progress they are making to comply with health protocols to minimise the spread of the virus. 

Teachers who spoke to Inside Education said they were worried about having learners back full-time because as it is the health protocols are not being adhered to at school. 

A primary school teacher in KwaZulu-Natal, who asked to remain anonymous because is not permitted to speak to the media, said at her school they only have sanitizer and none of the other protocols are being followed. 

Another teacher from the Eastern Cape said the school only provides sanitizer for learners and teachers have to bring their own. The teacher said last year classes used to be cleaned throughout the day after two periods, for example, but that now was not the case. And also that there were no screeners at the school. 

However, the teachers said they were happy to have the children back at school because they also worried that the rotation system was not working in the learners’ favour. 

READ: Union calls for schools in South Africa to close as Covid-19 third wave hits

Maluleke said the rotation system has exacerbated the inequality in the education system. He said children who attend schools with resources have long gone back to school full-time. 

“We are having a generation catastrophe here in our country. Where the working-class children, in particular poor, have been taught four times a month whereas they are going to have to compete at matric level with somebody who in grade five was taught every day. 

“Inequality is a problem. It is now the time for the government to provide resources to ensure that there is additional personnel to ensure that they provide mobile classes as a way of mitigating this issue of perpetuating inequality that is going on.

“June must be used for that purpose so that by the time the 26 of July comes those particular things are in place and therefore we are able to see an African child receiving education,” said Maluleke.

READ: DBE Portfolio Committee supports return to class full-time for primary and special education learners

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