Hygiene first, then teaching can follow, teachers’ unions say

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Teachers’ unions are balking at the idea of some schools reopening next week, claiming that a number of burning issues still have to be dealt with.

Teachers’ unions say only two of the country’s nine provinces have met minimum sanitation and safety standards at schools to allow management teams to return to work next week, ahead of a phased return of pupils later in the year.

South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) secretariat official Xolani Fakude said government should, therefore, not allow some provinces to resume education, while other provinces had to keep their schools closed.

This would only perpetuate the “inequality” in the educational system, he said.

Sadtu is demanding that schools not be allowed to reopen until there is full compliance with sanitisation requirements for both staff and pupils.

The executive director of the National Professional Teachers Association of South Africa (Naptosa), Basil Manuel, confirmed that only two provinces were “mostly ready” to accept their senior management team staff back at work on Monday.

He told Radio 702 the department of basic education’s own assessment was the seven provinces which were not ready were, in his words, “not even out of the starting blocks” because the personal protective equipment needed in schools had not been ordered or delivered, or that some orders had been cancelled.

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The department told a parliamentary committee last month that one of its draft “return to school” plans proposed 4 May as the return date for teachers, followed by pupils on 6 May. However, after an outcry from teachers, unions and parents, that target date was amended to 11 May for teachers and 18 May for pupils in a phased-in return.

Those dates are, however, still up in the air, because management teams should have reported for work yesterday. According to Manuel, though, this has not happened, although he had heard of some school principals being called to collect documents and some PPEs.

A joint statement earlier this week by a group of teachers’ unions, representing all of the unionised teachers, expressed concern at reports that Education Minister Angie Motshekga is to address the nation today on back-to-school readiness.

If the minister were to do this, “before addressing all the areas which are still not compliant, it will further erode the confidence in the public education system”.

Manuel said a number of issues still had to be dealt with. One of those was the position of teachers who lived in one province and taught in another.

Asked about his view on the possible impact of the school year, Manuel said it was possible that much of it “have to be scrapped”… although the unions were committed to doing as much as possible to help save matric pupils, due to write their final exams at the end of the year.

As for the rest of the pupils, Manuel said this could also be resolved, even if this entire year had to be scrapped.

“They are still in the system,” he said, so the time could be made up.

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