Education braces for shutdown

2010-08-20 16:08

Johannesburg - With fewer than 70 days to go before matric final exams, school governing bodies and the education department are bracing themselves for a possible shutdown of schools on Monday.

"It is a national disaster," said Jaco Deacon of the Federation of Governing Bodies of SA Schools (Fedsas).

Contacted for comment, education department spokesperson Granville Whittle said: "It's probably close to what will happen."

Two more teachers' unions will strike as part of a broader rejection by 1.3 million public service employees of the government's offer of a 7% wage increase and R700 housing allowance.

Figures submitted to the education department showed that between 70% to 90% of schools reported stayaways in eight provinces, with Western Cape showing the least effect at around 5%.

On Thursday the National Professional Teachers' Organisation of SA (Naptosa), which represents 42 000 employees, said it would strike on Friday and Monday, and the SA Onderwys Unie (SA Teachers Union), which represents 28 000 people, on Monday.

They would join the SA Democratic Teachers' Union, which has 245 000 members, who are already striking. There are about 400 000 "active" teachers registered with the SA Council of Educators.

Schools had not been declared closed for Monday, by mid Friday afternoon.

Call for intervention

A mass march was planned for next Thursday as public servants push for an 8.6% wage increase and R1 000 housing allowance they say will help them keep up with rising costs.

Said Deacon: "Our plea is to the department of education and district officers to immediately intervene."

Principals were not allowed to close schools without an instruction from the provincial head of department. They have to wait for an immediate threat before they can do so.

"Adults can deal with intimidation, but what about a Grade R child, or, a child of six or seven? They look up to these people."

Many parents have opted to keep their children out of school until the matter is resolved.

In the meantime, following a security cluster meeting on Friday, security would be stepped up at public facilities, including schools.

A much "firmer" stance against unions would be observed at schools from Monday, but more details were not immediately available.

A statement issued by the education department said it would deduct the days lost from teachers' salaries in the next pay run, which is September 15 for most teachers.

Inflammatory statements

Meanwhile, provincial education MECs and Education Minister Angie Motshekga planned to have separate meetings with union leaders to discuss their concerns.

"We want the unions to rein in these members that make themselves guilty. And certainly it is not all members of the unions," said Whittle, who had earlier issued a statement commending Naptosa's call for no violence and intimidation by its members.

He said the department was especially concerned about inflammatory statements made by regional or local union leaders which were encouraging people to disrupt schools.

The department would rely on principals' professional judgement if they wanted to close schools, but they needed to contact their circuit manager if they chose to do so.

"We are aware that it has been a difficult time for school principals over the last couple of days because of high levels of intimidation that we have seen... Our approach has been from the word go, safety first."

Matriculants, who also lost schooling when holidays were extended for the 2010 World Cup, were trying to form study groups and use study aids.

The department would work with the SABC to continue radio programmes aimed at Grade 12s.

At the beginning of the year President Jacob Zuma said he was concerned that the matric pass rate dropped to 60.7% for 2009 from 62.5% in 2008.