Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga. File Picture: Karen Sandison/African News Agency (ANA)
Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga. File Picture: Karen Sandison/African News Agency (ANA)

Teacher unions upset over Motshekga's 'rush to announce school dates'

By Staff Reporter Time of article published May 12, 2020

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With Angie Motshekga expected to announce on Thursday when schools will officially reopen, five teacher unions are still at loggerheads with the Basic Education (DBE) minister.

Motshekga, who met the unions and other stakeholders on Monday, is expected to provide detailed plans for the phased approach to the possible reopening of schools, which the unions – the SA Democratic Teachers Union, National Professional Teachers' Organisation of SA, National Teachers Union, Professional Educators Union and the SA Onderwysunie – believe will "further erode the confidence in the public education system". 

“The rush to announce dates before assessing the practical situation is damaging to the reputation of the education system. It’s eroding public confidence and this has to stop,” the unions said in a statement on Tuesday.

The unions said the only date agreed upon was May 18 for the school management teams (SMTs) to fully report for duty and any other tentative date would be considered based on the readiness check list. 

“We wish to state that for the minister to address the nation before addressing all the areas that are still not compliant will further erode the confidence in the public education system."

The unions 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 could have on the schools returning. 

“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 DBE must desist from misleading the public about unions having agreed on everything. We all want to see a smooth reopening of the schools."

The unions said they had agreed to allow the minister 24 hours to provide a summary of issues the unions had raised after Monday's meeting. They are unhappy that the impression has been created that they were consulted and agreed on the plan.

“We wish to correct the impression created by the statement attributed to the DBE’s spokesperson that the unions were consulted and agreed on the plan. 

“This is malicious and goes against the spirit of the meeting’s conclusion to allow the minister 24 hours to help us with a summary. 

“The unions are disturbed by this ‘we are all in this together’, if it means that the DBE is consulting to legitimise its top-down decisions. 

“We are all in this together must mean unity of purpose and consultations in the true sense of the word and not for grandstanding."

Regarding the readiness of provinces, the unions said only two were ready to receive the SMTs by May 13 and not earlier as announced by Motshekga.

The union said it had “emphatically told the minister that even the two provinces claiming to be ready were not ready, if they are going to use the SMTs members as screeners". 

“The meeting agreed to use the whole of this week to allow the provinces to comply with the non-negotiables. To avoid confusion, we agreed that the schools must be having the essentials such as the PPEs, sanitisers and education support personnel to help the SMTs to prepare to receive the teachers. 

“The date of the 18th was then set as the date for the SMTs to report for duty, taking into account all the safety precautions in compliance with the OHS and the Covid-19 regulations."

Commenting on facilities, the union said the report had “painted an unbelievable picture when only two provinces were ready despite the insistence of the department that workers must report for duty on the 11th”.

“The provinces themselves reported that they were not ready and needed time to fix the damaged schools. The provision of emergency water and ablution was way behind schedule and therefore not in compliance with the Covid-19 regulations. 

“The positive issue on infrastructure was that during the first phase of Grade 7 and 12, there will be enough classrooms to observe and comply with social distancing and the matter would remain on the agenda to look at other models, including rotational attendance by learners when more grades are phased in. 

“The critical matter was that there will be no sharing of the desk by the learners."

The report was not clear on how the SMTs will access the newly appointed education support personnel in those schools that had no such staff for the past 26 years, the union said. 

"The education support personnel are critical for the frequent cleaning of the schools and the surfaces in the schools," the unions said.

"The DBE committed to address all issues about comorbidities in the summary we were promised. That would have included how substitute teachers would be appointed in the place of those who might be working from home as a result of severe pre-existing conditions. 

"The summary would have provided guidelines to how additional teachers would be appointed to address the reduction of the class sizes in compliance with the directive of the department of Employment and Labour of social distancing for both the workers and the learners. 

“No information was received from the Department on these issues."

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