Education unions demand clarity and more discussions on reopening of schools
Johannesburg - A number of South African education sector trade unions have asked Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga for an urgent meeting to discuss certain issues and urged her to clarify various matters relating to the planned reopening of schools.
"As the [coronavirus] Covid-19 pandemic wreaks havoc around the world, we are experiencing the greatest display of solidarity in human history. This is the solidarity we expect in our education institutions and, we as education trade unions, felt that we should jointly respond to the ministers’ plans," the unions said in a statement.
Schools and higher education institutions were closed before the actual term closure as part of the strategy to curb the spread of the virus. This strategy was adopted in many countries as part of flattening the infection curve and the education unions supported this strategy because the spread of the virus had to be fought in every learning institutions and workplace.
The post schooling plans as outlined by the minister of higher education would be monitored and unions would engage with the department from time to time to address the problems that might arise.
"We have further noted the dates as determined by the minister of basic education with regard to plans for reopening onsite education as opposed to the higher education sector that shall not be reopening," the unions said.
According to Motshekga, these dates were informed by health experts and education specialists. She indicated that the plan was based on scientific information, hence the unions regarded these dates as forming part of her social contract with the people of South Africa.
"The announced dates will help us and the public hold her accountable for the delivery of the essentials as required for the fight against the spread of the virus via our schooling system. These dates will also be used by unions to monitor progress on the implementation of the non-negotiables as stated in the plan.
"We wish to emphasise the importance of the dates, because the health experts and curriculum specialists who advised the minister knew and assured her that by the 11th May 2020 all the non-negotiables shall be in place because the school management teams (SMTs) are required to report to schools. The work of the SMTs is to plan the timetables and how to receive the teachers and support staff. It is paramount that their health and safety be guaranteed," the unions said.
It was not the duty of the SMTs to supervise infrastructure or fixing of schools, nor was it their duty to install sanitisers or to deep-clean schools (ie. fumigation or disinfecting the schools). That was the work of public works or the infrastructure unit of the department. The SMTs would have to tick the list of the completed work and determine if teachers and support personnel could return to work.
"We therefore call upon the district or circuit offices not to require principals to come to circuits before the 11th May 2020. The principals will receive the masks on the 11th May after they have been screened by the health officials at the schools as stated by the plan. They must also find all sanitisers installed. The entire SMTs may only be called on the 12th May when all the essentials were ticked to be 100 percent delivered. The SMTs must be screened daily by the health officials and have their social distancing determined, and then plan for the return of the teachers.
"To understand the reopening of district and circuit offices, and the required number of staff, we shall request an urgent meeting with the minister. Our provincial secretaries will also request urgent meetings with the MECs and heads of departments in provinces to monitor the plan by the minister and further provincial plans.
"These meetings must happen before the 6th, and on the 10th we shall request a final meeting with the minister to tick the box of all the non-negotiable. If there is no progress, the minister will be required, in the interest of transparency, to address the nation about the reasons and how the challenges are being addressed. Workers will not be expected to report for duty because there will be no safety. The law requires that the employer guarantees a safe workplace for the employees," the unions said.
The unions would ask Motshekga to regulate or reduce her presentation into a circular with all the details to assist the circuit, districts, and head offices on the one-third of the workforce that may return to work, as required under Covid-19 level four regulations.
This would include those who had to report for duty from May 4. All employees had to be provided with personal protection equipment (PPEs) and the offices had to be have been deep cleaned as well.
The unions would also ask Motshekga to detail, in the regulations or a circular, how to deal with special schools, pre-schools, employees with pre-existing conditions, the elderly, and all aspects of comorbidity. The regulations should also address the issues of pregnancies.
"The regulations should furthermore address how combined schools shall be treated when it comes to both grade seven and grade 12 reporting on the same day at the same school. They must further provide clarity on boarding schools, as it relates to hostels. All these things are critical to avoid any loss of life," the unions said.
"In our last meeting with the minister, we agreed that she would meet the unions on the 11th May for feedback of the implementation of all the non-negotiables. Now that she has determined the dates before reporting progress to us, we request that she meet with us on the 10th May for report back."
The issue of the many teachers and support staff who travelled daily between provinces to their workplaces also had to be addressed in the regulations or circular. "This is the reality and we are making this request because we take the [Covid-19] regulations very seriously. We value the lives of our people and anything that can increase the transmission of the virus must be addressed urgently."
The unions had expressed their desire and commitment to participate in the curriculum realignment in order to discharge their responsibilities as mandated by the practitioners from the classrooms. Teachers were professionals and experts in their work and their inputs in the catch-up programme was vital.
"We wish to remind the minister of the agreement for our team of medical experts to be part of the task team that is dealing with modeling and planning to avoid schools being new epicentres of the virus. We call upon the minister and MECs in their respective provinces to secure permits for our leaders to travel to districts and circuits to monitor and report back to us," the unions said in the statement.
The joint statement was Issued by the National Professional Teachers Organisation of SA (Naptosa), SA Democratic Teachers' Union (Sadtu), SA Onderwysers Unie (SAOU), National Teachers' Union (Natu), and the Professional Educators' Union (PEU).
African News Agency (ANA)