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According to the KwaZulu-Natal Education Department, workshops arranged by its officials should take place at the end of the school day or on Saturdays.
For teachers to leave their blackboards during class time to attend training was a “contradiction” of the department’s policy, it said.
Tom Stokes, MPL and DA education spokesman, called on KZN Education MEC Senzo Mchunu to issue “immediately” a directive to his officials to refrain from arranging teacher meetings for times that were during school hours.
Stokes said that during a visit to Emshetsi High School in Thabamthlope last week, “utter chaos” reigned as 1 500 pupils milled around or strolled out of the school gates long after the bell had rung for classes to begin.
The school’s deputy principal told Stokes that teachers were attending an in-service course, while the principal had been called to another department meeting.
The attendance register showed that 25 of the 40 teachers were absent.
“Presumably they were at the workshop. Of the remaining 15 at school, just three were in classrooms,” Stokes said.
Last Friday, he raised the issue at a meeting of the KZN legislature’s education portfolio committee, attended by Mchunu and his senior management team. An official then responded that training workshops should be held after school or on a Saturday, as during school hours would be contrary to department policy.
Mchunu then added that the department was equally strict on pupils being excused from class – even if it was to attend a government function.
Mchunu said only he or his head of department, Nkosinathi Sishi, authorised such pupil absences.
By Mchunu’s calculations, members of the Jacob G Zuma High School choir, who performed at the renaming of the presidential residence King’s House last Thursday, had missed an entire day of school.
The ceremony was attended by President Jacob Zuma and KZN Premier Zweli Mkhize.
Mchunu said he was “sure” Zuma had not requested the choir’s attendance, and that neither he nor Sishi had given the go-ahead.
Yesterday Stokes said the “chaos” at Emshetsi had occurred despite clear instructions from Sishi to officials not to schedule meetings or workshops for school hours.
“Yet officials continue to disrupt teaching and learning by calling principals and educators away from their schools during class time… The habit of placing the convenience of teachers and officials ahead of the rights of learners has to be stopped,” Stokes said.