Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga meets with unions ahead of reopening of schools on Monday
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Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga was locked in a meeting with the unions ahead of the reopening of schools on Monday
The meeting followed concerns raised by the unions that they did not want to compromise the health and safety of learners and teachers when they go back to school.
South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) General-Secretary Mugwena Maluleke said on Saturday they wanted to ensure there was safety at schools. He said they back the minister to reopen schools, but there must be safety measures in place and this should not be compromised.
"Our position has always been that we want all schools to have health safety compliance. We support the reopening of schools as long as all the schools are compliant. To us compliance is important but it can't be above lives," said Maluleke.
Basic education department spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga could not be reached for comment.
However, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize weighed in on the debate on Saturday saying schools would have to be reopened as the Covid-19 pandemic would be with us for some time.
President Cyril Ramaphosa had indicated as well that the coronavirus would be around for the next 18 months to two years. Mkhize said children would have to return to school.
"We are saying the pandemic is going to be with us for a long time. We can't abandon schooling and economic activity. We can see some children are doing e-learning, but the bulk of the children don't have activity to be part of e-learning. This is a problem of us trying to walk together," said Mkhize.
Mkhize's deputy Joe Phaahla said the fight against Covid-19 was a marathon.
Maluleke said they need to strengthen the safety protocols at schools when children go back.
Motshekga pushed the reopening of schools, for Grades 7 and 12, by a week after an uproar by some of the unions. This was after the unions complained that some of the schools were not ready, particularly in poor communities. There was no protective personal equipment (PPE) for teachers and learners. The department of basic education has proposed the phasing in of learners to return to school.
For Grade 12 students they would have to sit for their exams this year. The department has also set a programme for students to catch up when they go back. One of the measures would be to curtail sports and other extra mural activities to focus on learning.
In a joint statement last week the unions said they wanted to meet with the minister and that schools cannot reopen until all the non-negotiables have been met.
"We therefore advise all schools, even those that might be ready to re-open, having received all the necessary materials for teachers and learners, not to re-open for learners until the non-negotiables have been delivered to all schools and to inform their learners accordingly," read the statement of the teacher unions.
The government has insisted that the pandemic would not be contained for now, but measures would have to be taken to mitigate its impact.