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Monday, November 29, 2021

Teacher Unions Up In Arms Over DBE’s Plan To Reduce Social Distancing To Half-a-metre In Schools

THE country’s biggest teacher unions have formally requested an urgent meeting with Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga and senior officials of her department to discuss the proposed narrowing of social distancing at schools from the gazetted 1 meter to half a meter.

The teacher unions – I.E, NAPTOSA, NATU, PEU, SADTU AND SAOU – claim that they were not consulted in regard to the new proposed reduced social distance of 0,5m in primary schools.

This comes after Motshekga said last week that the department had requested a meeting Cabinet and the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) for the social distancing regulations to be amended so that schools can go back to teaching normally.   

The unions have questioned the rationale behind Motshekga’s proposed narrowing of social distancing at schools. 

The unions have also warned that should the NCC approve the proposal, they could turn to the courts to oppose the move. 

“It is our contention that this matter must be the subject of genuine consultations with the organised teaching profession and that it must be supported by scientific evidence that the planned reduction will not lead to further infections among learners, educators and members of the broader community,” said the teacher unions in a statement.

“No scientific evidence thus far has been provided to the unions in connection with the acceptability of such a reduction.”

The unions said this new development takes place after the publication of the new Department of Basic Education (DBE) COVID-19 Directions on July 31 2021 that determine social distance as 1m.

“But, despite warnings from the teacher unions that 1m social distancing is not possible when all primary school learners return to school, it is clear after two school days that compliance with the 1m social distancing is virtually impossible when the traditional time table is followed,” said the unions.

“Our advice to schools in the interim is that where the 1m cannot be complied with, the schools should follow the deviation provisions as contained in the Gazette and to continue with rotational timetabling. This is done in the best interest of the child, educators and the community and to ensure that schools do not become super-spreaders but rather the barriers against the transmission.”

Despite fierce criticism from the teachers unions, Motshekga insists that her department would table a proposal at the National Coronavirus Command Council to lower the COVID-19 social distancing between primary school kids from the gazetted 1 meter to half a meter.

She argued that the scientific data shows this is still safe for kids and is also practiced overseas.

In June, the department published a set of coronavirus guidelines saying that “schools are potential risk areas for the spread of the virus” and that the guidelines have been developed to mitigate the risk of the virus spreading at schools.

The department further emphasised that hygiene and physical distancing at schools need to be strictly adhered to, to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

More than 1 650 teachers died due to COVID-19 related complications between March 2020 and February this year.

Motshekga said as far as vaccination plans were concerned, the education sector had targeted 582 000 personnel in the Basic Education Sector; and that when the vaccination programme was closed, formally, they had 517 000 people, who have received the vaccines – an 89% vaccination success rate – on their books.

Motshekga said she has received information that the teachers’ unions were concerned that they weren’t consulted about the move, but added that the department still needed to engage with the Department of Health and the National Coronavirus Command Council.

“We are going to look at different measures, whether we use school halls or platooning systems or outside places,” said Motshekga.

She said the department has agreed to meet the unions and provide them with a report.

Before the department goes to Cabinet about the proposal, it needed the opinions of the Ministerial Advisory Committee and it would table the matter with the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure.

However, Sadtu’s general-secretary Mugwena Maluleke believes there is still a lack of scientific evidence.

“We do not agree because we have not been presented with any scientific evidence. While we had a meeting on Saturday, Cogta (Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs) published 1 meter, the Department of Basic Education also published 1 meter. So we do not know where the half a meter comes from,” he said.

  • Inside Education
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