Pupils delayed but staff fearful of their early return to school

By Nathan Craig Time of article published Jan 17, 2021

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Durban - School staff and unions are baffled at their early return while pupils stay at home.

On Friday Deputy Basic Education Minister Reginah Mhaule announced that pupils enrolled at public schools would return on February 15 and not the originally scheduled January 27.

She said the postponement was made given the pressure and strain the country and health system experienced over the past few weeks given the resurgence in Covid-19 infections.

“The coronavirus has turned our lives upside down and decision-making for a sector as large as basic education has been difficult... . The Council of Education Ministers, in conjunction with the National Coronavirus Command Council, has taken the decision to delay the opening of both public and private schools by two weeks," she said.

Mhaule said school management teams would return on January 25, teachers on February 1, and pupils on February 15.

“This is to provide relief to the health system which is already struggling to cope with the current demands.”

Lebogang Montjane, executive director of Independent Schools Association of Southern Africa, said that a two-week delay, while inconvenient, was not as bad as the disruption caused last year.

“We remain sympathetic to the difficult situation our country finds itself, namely of trying to maintain functioning systems and sectors and trying to prevent Covid-related deaths. There can be no question that health and safety are of paramount importance. We have been gratified by the government’s consultative approach as well as by their open and gracious inclusion of education stakeholder. While we may be tired of this pandemic, it is clearly not yet tired of us. Consequently, we must dig deep into our reserves for patience and resilience once more and deal with another challenging year,” said Montjane.

Montjane said they advised schools to open for in-person instruction on February 15.

Principals and staff were glad that pupils would return at a later date but were concerned for their safety.

“We are scared to return to school and expose ourselves and for nothing, as no pupils will be in class. We fear the department is gambling with our lives,” said a principal who asked not to be named.

Sadtu’s general secretary, Mugwena Maluleke, said they welcomed the delay, however, did not agree with the call for management to report for duty from January 25.

“The unions were not consulted. We wonder what informed this decision because teachers are as vulnerable to the pandemic as the learners. This shows the department has no regards for the lives of the workers. The NCCC’s decision was aimed at helping the health system to cope with the crisis. They are spitting on this well-intended goal to save lives.

Maluleke said the department made it seem that pupils were taught by robots.

“The decision to delay the opening of schools is based on scientific advice and the World Health Organization. The numbers must be declining for 14 consecutive days to reopen schools safely. Allowing educators to report for duty, a week before learners report to schools would be a justifiable option because we would have observed for 14 consecutive days, the decline in numbers. This matter was raised in the meeting held with the department and will be part of the agenda for the next meeting the unions will have with them.”

Thirona Moodley, Naptosa’s provincial spokesperson, said they welcomed the postponement but could not fathom the rationale to have management and teachers return two and three weeks earlier.

“At a time when this pandemic has outwitted experts, the second wave has arrived sooner and more fatal than expected, the department has chosen to have teachers and school management teams return to school way before learners. What are teachers to do in school when learners have not reported, considering their core duty is teaching. Is it not safer for teachers to stay at home until it is absolutely necessary for them to leave? Will schools be safe for their return? Did the Department of Education deliver PPE, water, disinfectants and the other non-negotiables demanded by the unions to schools?”

Sunday Tribune

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