SAOU spokesperson Stephan van den Berg said the third and fourth terms would be separated by a long weekend by declaring September 23 a school holiday. Picture: African News Agency(ANA)
SAOU spokesperson Stephan van den Berg said the third and fourth terms would be separated by a long weekend by declaring September 23 a school holiday. Picture: African News Agency(ANA)

Anger at Basic Education department’s plan to cancel September school holidays

By Sisonke Mlamla Time of article published Aug 18, 2021

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Cape Town - Teacher unions are up in arms over the alleged intention of the Department of Basic Education (DBE) to cancel the October school holiday to compensate for the five school days that were lost as a result of the earlier closure for the winter holidays.

Five unions — the SA Democratic Teachers Union, the SA Teachers’ Union (SAOU), the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of SA (Naptosa), the Professional Educators’ Union and the National Teachers Union — recently confronted the DBE, saying none of them had been consulted.

SAOU spokesperson Stephan van den Berg said the DBE admitted that the Committee of Education Ministers and the Heads of Departments Committee (Hedcom) have already decided that the days to be compensated were October 4 to 8.

Van den Berg said the third and fourth terms would be separated by a long weekend by declaring September 23 a school holiday.

Naptosa executive director Basil Manuel said the unions rejected the idea as inconsiderate, and a clear indication of the lack of respect and care for teachers and the stressful situation they were living through daily, and said that learners also needed a break.

Manuel said the fixation of the department with having 200 school days completely ignored the reality of Covid-19 and the fact that the president had closed schools for an extra week.

He said the impression that teachers had extra holidays was incorrect and misleading.

“Management teams have had the longest school year on record, far in excess of 200 days, and teachers have had a full year of almost 200 days,” he said.

Manuel said the sacrifices made by teachers in teaching extra classes with no compensation over weekends and holidays had not been considered and instead seen as willing sacrifices for better results

Education MEC Debbie Schäfer said she was not in favour of cancelling the October holidays, because there has been so much disruption to the calendar already. “Chopping and changing like this is very difficult for our schools, learners and teachers.”

Schäfer said it was also not fair on parents who might have planned holidays for that time.

DBE spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said they were still meeting with stakeholders, and Hedcom would discuss the matter again today.

“Until then, there’s nothing we can say, since it is being discussed,” said Mhlanga.

Congress of SA Students provincial secretary Mphumzi Giwu said they supported the call, because they believed that learners and teachers have been home for too long and have lost a lot of time.

Giwu called on the department to invest more time as compared to the time lost, and also called on the department to invest more into e-learning so it could be possible for learners and teachers to produce results out of class.

Progressive Principals’ Association spokesperson Anthea Adriaanse said the decision to cancel the October school holiday was ill-conceived and inconsiderate.

Adriaanse said teachers were at the forefront of education and daily put themselves at risk while trying to rescue the learning losses that have occurred as a result of the pandemic.

She said teachers were working under the most trying circumstances, having to manage their physical, mental and emotional health.

“Expecting teachers to continue working without having the October break will be disastrous and lead to further burn-out caused by stress and exhaustion,” she said.

Adriaanse said the notion that quality education was taking place was completely misplaced, because schools were languishing under the pressure caused by learner and teacher absenteeism.

“DBE officials need to spend a week at schools to experience the reality of the challenges being faced. As schools, we are also concerned about our learners. To compound this, we are having to comply with unnecessary administrative tasks,” said Adriaanse.

She asked: “Where is the reduction in curriculum content that was promised? Teachers have to soldier on, dancing to an ever-changing beat as drummed by DBE, with no voice of their own.”

She said creating an extra five days for teaching would not solve the academic crisis. Even children were facing mental challenges during this time, so the idea of taking away their holiday would definitely not be a prospect they would appreciate.

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