KZN MEC wants all pupils in school by month-end
Durban - KwaZulu-Natal Education MEC Kwazi Mshengu wants all pupils to be back in school by the end of this month and has cautioned that anyone attempting to disrupt schooling for any reason would have to face the consequences.
He held a virtual address yesterday on challenges facing schooling in the province and efforts to address them.
Teacher unions questioned if it was wise to send more grades back to the classroom as the province headed for the peak of Covid-19 infections.
After schooling was halted in mid-July following concerns raised by teacher unions and parents, Grade 12 pupils returned to schools last week and Grade 7 pupils will return today.
Mshengu said he was concerned about the pupils’ absence from school.
“We have lost too much time. There are pupils who were last in school in March and we are in August now and they have never been to school.
“That has impacted on them severely both in terms of academic progress and development as children. Unfortunately, it was a situation where we could not do anything but comply with the lockdown,” said Mshengu.
“Now we are at a time when we are bringing back grades in the schooling system, Grade 12 is back, we started with them on June 7 and 8. We are expecting that by the end of this month all grades will be back in school.”
He said because of the current situation with the coronavirus, the return of grades would be staggered.
Mshengu said many schools were overcrowded and to comply with the rules of social distancing, pupils would have to take turns coming to school.
“We can’t keep the pupils and the teachers safe if they are all brought back on one day, and that’s why they will be in schools on different days. By the end of this month, every child will have a day in school where they can continue to learn,” he said.
Regarding disruptions at schools, Mshengu said the department had warned school governing bodies that they did not have powers to close down schools.
“The government has made it clear that parents are not forced to bring their children to school if they are concerned.
“They have a right to apply for home schooling. What we are saying is that that does not give them the right to disrupt schooling for other pupils.
“Pupils have a right to come to school and many of them enjoy being at school,” he said.
Mshengu said parents should not be afraid as the schools were a safe environment.
He urged communities that are fighting for water, eradication of pit latrines at school and other issues not to disrupt schooling.
The national Department of Basic Education also issued an appeal to parents and communities yesterday to protect schools against disruptions.
It said it had become aware of attempts made by some members of school governing bodies (SGBs) across the country to close schools and disrupt learning.
It said SGB members had disrupted classes in several schools in Gauteng last week.
It said should SGBs act outside the legal dictates of their roles and functions by trying to close schools, they risked immediate disbandment.
A Durban school principal said the proposed class schedule was not perfect.
“It proposed what days and time different classes should be in school - there is no way we are going to complete the curriculum with that schedule.”
National Teachers Union president Allen Thompson said they were aware of the plan for all pupils to return to school and were monitoring the situation closely.
“We hope the MEC has a plan in place as the department is way behind on so many things, they have not appointed substitute teachers for those with comorbidities and have not procured mobile classes to accommodate all these pupils,” he said.
Scelo Bhengu, the leader of Educators Union of South Africa, said it appeared that the department did not have the interests of teachers and pupils at heart.
“We feel that as long as the pandemic is still on the upward trajectory, no one should be going to school. The less said about Grade 12 pupils’ return last week, the better.
“There has been no improvement in preparing the schools, there are schools that are crowded and still have not received any mobile classes.
“There are schools in this province that were a problem before the pandemic, that have no water or toilets, that have broken windows and doors,” he said.
Naptosa provincial chief executive Thirona Moodley said it hoped the department was prepared for the arrival of the pupils.
“At any time no school should have more than 50% of the pupil population in the school, to ensure social distancing and to ensure effective screening.
“We have been warned that KZN will peak in the next two weeks, how long this will last is anyone’s guess,” she said.