Education Department backtracks on school re-opening announcement
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Durban - Basic Education minister Angie Motshekga has postponed plans to announce the re-opening of schools, saying she needed more time to consult further with the provincial MEC's.
Earlier this week, Motshekga's office released a statement saying she had met union leaders and other stakeholders ahead of a press briefing to be held on Thursday where she was expected to share “details that include the final dates and detailed plans for the phased approach to the possible reopening of schools”.
On Thursday, however, the her department backtracked, saying no invitation to the briefing had been sent to confirm the details of the briefing.
Motshekga will now convene a special meeting of the Council of Education Ministers (CRM) on Monday to consider the progress made towards the reopening of schools.
In the statement, the department said the purpose of the meeting will be to consider the work done by provinces this week, including the taking of deliveries of Covid-19 essentials preconditions for the reopening of schools.
In preparation for the reopening of schools, Motshekga announced plans for physical distancing in the classroom, which included that not more that two pupils share a desk, that hugging and handshaking is prohibited, that teachers and pupils will wear masks at all times, that classrooms will be sanitised before the start of the school day
However, education insiders say the minister backtracked after pressure from unions who warned against the rushed re-opening of schools.
The unions said in a joint statement on Wednesday that the impression created by the department that unions were consulted and agreed on the plan was “malicious” and went against the spirit of the meeting's conclusion.
The report, said to have taken a week to draw up, revealed only two provinces were ready to receive the School Management Teams (SMTs) by yesterday, relating to the cleaning and disinfecting of the schools and the delivery of personal Protective equipment (PPEs) in compliance with the Covid-19 regulations.
The unions – the National Teachers’ Union, SA Democratic Teachers’ Union, National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa, the Professional Educators’ Union and SA Onderwysersunie – said they had noted the report and had agreed to allow Motshekga 24 hours to provide a summary of issues the unions had raised in the meeting.
“The unions noted the report and emphatically told the minister that even the two provinces claiming to be ready were not ready if they are going to use the SMTs for screening. The meeting agreed to use this week (May 11-15) to allow provinces to comply with the regulations,” they said.
To avoid confusion they had agreed that schools must have essentials such as PPEs, sanitisers and education support personnel to help the SMTs prepare to receive teachers.
“May 18 was then set as the date for the SMTs to report for duty. The report painted a gloomy picture, but the reasons were again advanced that it was just one week's work,” the unions said.
They stressed the need for a single national calendar and rejected the idea of a phased approach to provinces and schools reopening.
“We placed on record our concern at the increasing infection rate in the country and the impact this would have on reopening of schools. The manner in which the department is conducting itself on the consultations is causing a trust deficit with the unions and this must be addressed. The department must stop misleading the public about unions having agreed on everything,” the unions said.
Lobby groups Equal Education, Equal Education Law Centre and Section 27 said the uncertainty of the future of the 2020 academic year was causing confusion and anxiety.
They called for the department to present a clear and comprehensive plan to the public about the future of the school year.