Back-to-school plan slammed

2020-04-30 14:00
The Eastern Cape Department of Education has set up an admission committee to assist unplaced learners as parents still battle to find schools for their children. (Ashraf Hendricks, GroundUp)

The Eastern Cape Department of Education has set up an admission committee to assist unplaced learners as parents still battle to find schools for their children. (Ashraf Hendricks, GroundUp)

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Teachers unions and governing body associations have warned of the “catastrophic consequences” if schools open prematurely.

Reacting to a presentation yesterday by Department of Basic Education director-general Mathanzima Mweli to the portfolio committee on basic education and the select committee on education, technology, arts and culture, the unions and associations said the draft plan left more questions than answers.

They said although the suggestions sounded good on paper, physical distancing was impossible, especially at overcrowded schools mostly in townships and rural areas.

According to the draft plan, which is subject to the approval of the National Command Council, schools are to open in phases from Monday, for Matrics and Grade 7, although this is subject to change, MPs were told. Feedback from social cluster ministers was that May 18 could be more realistic.

Minister Angie Motshekga is expected to give an update on the department’s area of work in relation to the Covid-19 lockdown on Thursday.

Mweli said Grade 11 and Grade 6 pupils are scheduled to go back in two weeks’ time and pupils in other grades will follow every two weeks until Grade R pupils’ anticipated return on July 15.

Mweli said pupils and teachers will be screened for Covid-19 when schools reopen and if they have raised temperatures, they will be considered for isolation and testing.

He said there will also be strict physical distancing measures and no more than 40 pupils in a class will be allowed.

According to the draft plan, matrics will write their full exams, covering their whole curriculum, but other grades will be tested on 80% of the curriculum, which will be reworked.

The matrics’ mid-term and year-end exams will be combined and rescheduled for November and December.

Allen Thompson, president of the National Teachers’ Union (Natu) said teachers and pupils were at high risk of being infected.

“Personal protective equipments and mobile classes have not been delivered to schools as we speak.

“Forty pupils per class is even far above the norms and standards that are set by each and every province. There is no consideration of overcrowding.”

Thompson said the suggestion of two pupils sharing a desk was also not practical. “How big is that desk? There is no desk that has a gap of 1,5 metres.”

He said they did not support the notion of Grade 7 pupils going back to school first.

South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) provincial secretary Nomarashiya Caluza vowed that the union would fight any plans that will see teachers trained to conduct screenings.

“There is no single teacher that must do the work of the Department of Health.

“Teachers go to school to teach. For teachers to be exposed to testing their colleagues and pupils is something we are not going to allow. Many teachers have diabetes and hypertension ... they are a vulnerable group.”

Caluza said their view is that government should use level four of the lockdown to prepare for the opening of schools.

“The department should use this period to acquire the necessary apparatus. At level three, we can start bringing back pupils,” she said.

Naptosa spokesperson Therona Moodley reiterated the department did not have the capacity to ready schools in time for opening of any single grade. “There are too many questions and very few workable solutions,” Moodley said.

Chairperson of the KZN Parents Association, Vee Gani said, “We must not allow to forge ahead with education at the risk of losing lives.

“The vulnerable in our society are our children and the elderly. I don’t understand the logic of having 40 kids in a classroom if large gatherings have been banned.”

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  schools
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