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As third Covid-19 wave looms in SA, teacher unions against 100% attendance proposal

Pupils at St Francis primary school in Soshanguve Block P on their first day at school this academic year. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency(ANA)

Pupils at St Francis primary school in Soshanguve Block P on their first day at school this academic year. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency(ANA)

Published May 11, 2021


DURBAN - Teacher unions have raised concerns about the recent rise in Covid-19 cases, amid the proposal to have all primary and special schools return to daily attendance in the second term.

The Department of Basic Education had previously announced that it would be formulating a proposal on the matter and that it would present it to teachers unions, school governing bodies, as well as other stakeholders.

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While some schools have been allowed to have 100% attendance, after they made submissions to the department, others, particularly disadvantaged schools, still have pupils attending on a rotational basis.

The rotational model, where children attend school only a few days a week, was implemented to ensure that physical distancing takes place in schools in line with Covid-19 regulations. There have been concerns that the model was not working and was to the detriment of pupils.

According to the unions, the department presented their proposal to them at the weekend, however, at least two unions believe there is a need to review the proposal, as the third wave of Covid19 looms.

South African Democratic Teachers Union spokesperson Nomusa Cembi said the department’s plan needed to be in line with the recent developments regarding the coronavirus, especially the rise in cases and the new variants which had been discovered in South Africa.

Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize confirmed last week that Covid-19 variants dominant in India and the UK had been detected in South Africa.

The discovery of the variants come as many parts of the country had started picking up early signs of the third wave of infections.

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Cembi said they were concerned about the safety of teachers and pupils, adding that the department needed to revisit their plan in accordance with the new Covid-19 trends.

Notably, Cembi said that the union had realised that the issue of rotational learning was not working for younger children. In short, it is not conducive to proper learning.

“It is a fact that, most of the time, pupils forget what was taught to them two days ago.

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“Teachers find themselves having to repeat lessons.

“As much as this is frustrating for our teachers, we can’t risk their lives by allowing every pupil back to schools at this stage,” she said.

Cembi cautioned the department that, should they approve the 100% return, issues of overcrowding, water and sanitation, filling of teacher posts and vaccination of teachers needed to be urgently attended to.

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The National Professional Teachers’ Organisation provincial chief executive Thirona Moodley said even though they

The new plan needs to be in detail about the third wave and the new variants.

VEE GANI Chairperson of the Parents Association of KZN

were not opposing 100% attendance of pupils, the department’s proposal was far from convincing.

Moodley said they acknowledged what the department was trying to achieve and understood that many of the pupils were being left behind. However, she said the department’s plan had many loopholes, which created a lot of doubt.

“The scientists have made it clear that we are going to experience a third wave, we are just not sure when.

“Already the numbers are increasing daily and there are these new variants. So we can't have the department failing to answer most of the questions we have about the health and safety, of both pupils and staff,” said Moodley.

She said the department failed to provide responses on how they would ensure social distancing, deal with overcrowding and ensure safety.

“Having children back has become more risky than before. Children will feel as if everything is normal, and there would be no control on school grounds, in toilets, shops, etc.”

Moodley said it was not the right time to have 100% of the pupils returning to schools, as more information was needed from the department’s side.

“As the union, we believe that the department needs to go back to the drawing board.

“Their proposal needs to be updated based on the current situation we are facing,” said Moodley.

Vee Gani, the chairperson of the Parents Association of KZN, said the department should revisit its plan thoroughly, taking into consideration the rise in Covid-19 infections.

“The new plan needs to be in detail about the third wave and the new variants. Everything you do is based on risk assessment and, if there is a higher risk, then you have to relook and reassess your plan.

“They probably composed their plan months ago, while infections were low, but now they’re increasing daily,” he said.

Department of Basic Education spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said they were going to meet with the National Coronavirus Command Council, where they would brief them on their proposal.

“All the decisions around Covid-19 are made by the Cabinet and all we will do is make a proposal,” he said.