Cape Town – Teacher unions have threatened to challenge the Western Cape Education Department’s (WCED) decision to reopen schools, saying the provincial government’s insistence to go it alone undermined the unitary nature of the country’s education system.
Western Cape Education MEC Debbie Schäfer said the province was acting in accordance with Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga’s request to get schools ready for June 1, which has been gazetted.
While the phasing in of pupils was set to start yesterday after being gazetted last week, Motshekga made an about-turn on Sunday and said pupils should only return on June 8.
In the Western Cape, the only province to reopen yesterday, dribs and drabs of pupils showed up at schools across the province.
In a joint statement, the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union, National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of SA, SAOU, Professional Educators’ Union and National Teachers Union said the Western Cape’s attitude “to define itself outside the collective must not be allowed”.
“South Africa is one country, and their insistence to go it alone undermines the unitary nature of our education system. We are not only going to scrutinise but challenge their move.
"This is time to show solidarity with the plight of other provinces and, indeed, sympathy with the plight of thousands of our teachers and children across the nation,” said the unions.
In her press briefing yesterday,
Motshekga did not respond to questions about her view on the Western Cape opening schools to pupils despite the date change.
“We decided that the sector required more time to mop up issues in order to be ready. The state of readiness reports were also received from provinces and it became clear that the sector was at different levels of readiness to reopen.
“We have to help force our children to understand the new environment. There will be different assemblies, they will not be able to interact with their friends, they will have different break times and they will leave school at different times.
“We want to create a Covid compliant environment and postponing is disadvantageous to the poor learners.”
Motshekga, her director-general Mathanzima Mweli and service providers said the blame for the delay in providing the personal protective equipment (PPE) for pupils and teachers was on some service providers who “misled” them about their capabilities.
Other challenges encountered included having local business owners demanding to be given tenders to
provide the equipment.
Provinces deemed to be still lagging behind in their preparations are KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Limpopo.
Schäfer said: “It is nonsensical to say that poor learners will suffer. The poor learners are suffering now. Wealthy learners are continuing with learning from home, where they have the resources to do so.
"The argument is equivalent to saying that if a car has a flat tyre then we must make all other tyres flat, rather than fix the flat tyre.”
While some schools in the province welcomed pupils, schools such as Lavender Hill High School and Islamia College decided to stay closed.
Schäfer’s spokesperson Kerry Mauchline said: “Initial reports indicate that over 98% of our schools reopened. Less than 2% did not open as a result of cleaning due to a positive Covid-19 case, protest action which prevented learners from entering, or informed parents that they were not opening. The WCED will engage with these schools.”
National Association of Governing Bodies general secretary Matakanye Matakanye said school governing bodies made it clear that they felt schools were not ready to reopen.
“We are very disappointed in the Western Cape and concerned about their decision to reopen schools. We really are disappointed that WC sees itself as a republic on its own.
"We indicated that schools are not ready, and the Western Cape went along. We will keep an eye on the Western Cape.”
He said that even though the Western Cape and Gauteng were touted as being ready, Gauteng schools remained closed.
Vanessa le Roux, the administrator of a group of parents against the opening of schools, said the government should have waited until after the expected peak in cases.
“They are now playing politics with the lives of our children, and we should not allow it. We would be foolish if we allowed our children to enter the platform of politics. We refuse to let our children be sacrificed for this game that they are playing.”
Le Roux said the group, which was started last week, had nearly 100 000 members who believed that schools won’t even be ready by next week.
“What magic will happen in a week? They had months to prepare and still some are not ready and have no PPEs. There are schools with no toilets and water.
"Where will all of that suddenly come from in a week? It is just a mess, and they want us to risk our children’s lives.”