KZN govt says it doesn’t have to agree with unions on schools, but wants solutions

This after teacher unions declared KwaZulu-Natal was unfit to reopen schools during the Covid-19 pandemic.

KwaZulu-Natal Treasury MEC Ravi Pillay has said the provincial government is confident it can find common ground with teachers’ unions who have called on their members not to return to school.

Pillay – who was inspecting Unobhala High School in Enkanyezini, Mkhambathini, on Thursday – said while the government respected the view of organised labour, it did not have to agree with it.

“In keeping with our tradition as a country and majority progressive movement to which we belong, I am confident engagements will be robust and we will find each other with a solution we can live with.”

Education MEC Kwazi Mshengu and the education department is currently scrambling to prepare for the reopening of schools under Level 3 lockdown, but unions have instructed teachers to stay at home, citing an alleged lack of preparedness from the government.

Grades 7 and 12 pupils are set to begin the phasing in of students at schools from Monday.

On Wednesday, the department came under fire from Sadtu as well as union heavyweights the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa, National Teachers Union, SA Teachers Union and Professional Educators Union after they declared KwaZulu-Natal was unfit to reopen schools during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mshengu was absent from the engagement on Thursday after he became a father to a baby boy.

“The MEC had [a] bouncy, baby boy,” his spokesperson, Kwazi Mthethwa, said.

Mshengu confirmed this on Twitter, saying: “I had to attend to a new addition at home. My sincere apology to your team.”

Pillay, standing in for Mshengu, said he was “reasonably satisfied” that Unobhala High School was ready to take in matric pupils on Monday.

“This school is ready in terms of the personal protective equipment [PPE], sanitisers, disinfectants and masks and screens.”

He added while the school had about a month of stock, more would be provided.

“We think that should be enough for a month and there is enough reserve stock at provincial and district level to top that up.”

Pillay said Unobhala High had a staff complement of 15 and nine had returned to work.

“One is on study leave and five are unaccounted for. We assume that is part of the bigger equation, but we will deal with that provincially and nationally as we go along.”

He added physical distancing at the school would be looked at and pupils would be catered for.

“This school has 94 learners in Grade 12 who are normally accommodated in two classrooms. They will now be accommodated in four classrooms to achieve social distancing.

“Of course that is a solution and a sustainable solution as long as learners are limited to Grade 12. As we go along and work towards a return of all learners to school, it will require a different implementation plan – that’s a work in progress.”

Pillay said the options for the return to full schooling could be a combination of mobile classrooms, morning and afternoon lessons or an alternative day system.

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