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Tug-of-war looms over schools' reopening

Pressure is mounting on the government to close schools after Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga had back-to-back meetings with the teachers’ unions, school principals and school governing bodies on Friday. Ayanda Ndamane African News Agency (ANA)

Pressure is mounting on the government to close schools after Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga had back-to-back meetings with the teachers’ unions, school principals and school governing bodies on Friday. Ayanda Ndamane African News Agency (ANA)

Published Jul 18, 2020

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Durban - Pressure is mounting on the government to close schools after Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga had back-to-back meetings with the teachers’ unions, school principals and school governing bodies on Friday.

This comes as the SA Human Rights Commission called for the government to reopen schools. The DA made a submission to President Cyril Ramaphosa on Friday, urging him to reopen schools, while the Federation of Governing Bodies of SA Schools (Fedsas) is of the view that there is no need for a shutdown.

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National Association of School Governing Bodies chairperson Matakana Matakane said the association had pleaded for the suspension of classes except grades 7, 9 and 12.

He said the minister said she would discuss the matter with the Cabinet and the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) and provide feedback.

“We felt that something must be done for Grade 12 in rural areas and townships because they do not have e-learning. Grade 7 will be getting to high school next year; therefore, if they remain suspended they will not have information to carry to high school while Grade 9 will be choosing new subjects in Grade 10,” said Matakane.

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Teacher unions yesterday afternoon met Motshekga to urge her to suspend schooling until the end of the virus peak season. The SA Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) hoped “sense prevails”.

“Sadtu sincerely believes schools should close during the peak because the high rates of transmissions makes it hard for effective teaching and learning to take place in schools,” said media officer Nomusa Cembi.

“Schools are closing now and again whenever a teacher or learner tests positive, and this is becoming more frequent as the virus is reaching its peak... When teachers or learners see one of theirs absent, the anxiety levels increase.”

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The National Professional Teachers' Organisation of SA agreed. “All we are saying is that this is when we need to take a break and then reopen when the peak is over,” said executive director Basil Manuel.

Basic Education spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said yesterday that prior to the unions meeting, Motshekga had in the morning met school governing bodies, school principals and special schools organisations.

"All the discussions will inform what the minister takes to Cabinet where the decision is taken.”

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The DA submission pleaded for schools which were equipped to protect teachers and pupils from the Covid-19 pandemic to remain open.

“Leading educational and scientific research has demonstrated that children’s vulnerability to Covid-19 is extremely low - lower than their vulnerability to influenza. Their need to attend school is of supreme importance, particularly in a developing country such as our own,” read the party’s submission.

Teachers, it said, should not be treated differently from workers of other sectors who had resumed working during the pandemic.

“We feel strongly that schools must remain open," said Fedsas chief executive Paul Colditz. “Medical science and social science says it’s in the best interest of children to be back at school. That should be our main consideration. Nine million children are fed at school, and it will now probably be more because lots of parents have lost their jobs, etc.

"Scientists are also telling us that depression and social problems with children are increasing because children are away from their peers. That is an important consideration.”

Schools provide a safe environment, he said, adding that should the

government close schools, it would encounter opposition.

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