Schooling is not ready to resume. This was a strong message from teacher unions and school governing bodies (SGBs) on Friday afternoon.
They are expected to meet with the Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga and MECs on Saturday to spell out their position on the matter.
Conflicting reports have been made by authorities and stakeholders in the past weeks on the state of readiness of the schools.
The teacher unions and the SGB associations’s positions on Friday afternoon again contradicted Motshekga’s statement on Thursday after her meeting on Monday with the Council of Education Ministers (CEM), a body made up of provincial education MECs, which indicated that provinces were ready.
In it, Motshekga said the council noted that even though some schools had not yet received their safety materials, progress in the cleaning of schools and deliveries of personal protective equipment (PPEs) was taking place.
She said the council was scheduled to submit a final report on Thursday. But on Friday it was still unclear if these reports were submitted as the department had not responded at the time of writing.
After their meeting on Friday, unions and SGB associations said information gained from their members on the ground led to a unanimous position that the education system was not ready for the reopening.
Section 28(2) of the Constitution, they said, provides that the best interest of children are paramount in every matter concerning children.
“While we acknowledge that the right to basic education and the necessity for children to return to schools are extremely important rights, these considerations cannot trump the best interests principle entrenched in the Constitution.
We do not believe it to be in the best interest of the children to return to schools when we know that uncertainty concerning their health and safety reigns,” the joint statement said.
The statement was signed by the Federation of School Governing Bodies of SA Schools, National Association of School Governing Bodies, Governing Body Foundation, SA Democratic Teachers’ Union, National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of SA, Suid Afrikaanse Onderwyveser Unie, Professional Educators Union and National Teachers’ Union.
The statement also said article 16 of Convention number 155 of the International Labour Organisation states that the employer must ensure that, so far as is reasonably practicable, the workplaces, machinery, equipment and work processes under their control are safe and without risk to health.
“Ensuring health and safety in workplaces must be the highest priority as people return to work emerging from Covid-19 coronavirus restrictions and closure. Good occupational health and safety protect workers, members of their household and the public.
“Most provincial departments have not been able to deliver PPEs, or at least sufficient PPEs, for all returning school management team members and teachers. PPEs for pupils have not arrived at schools, despite earlier assurances that they are housed in warehouses in provinces.
“Many schools have not been cleaned and disinfected as per the direction of the department of employment and labour. Today is the last working day before schools reopen on Monday. If the PPEs have not been delivered by now, chances are slim that all schools will have them on Monday.
“Was this the reason that the media reports quoted the minister as saying that schools that do not have the equipment in place will not reopen? As a collective, we wish to highlight that our rejection of a staggered opening of schools.
“No school must be left behind, especially not because of incompetence and tardiness. Given the historical injustices of the past, it is obvious which schools will be left behind should a staggered approach to schools reopening be followed. This we cannot allow no matter the justification.”
The statement said the amended curriculum had not been provided to schools.
“We all know which schools cannot be expected to start teaching when they have not been orientated on the new curriculum. They could be wasting valuable time teaching in terms of the ‘old’ curriculum, while they are expected to be concentrating on other aspects of the curriculum.
“No teacher should be expected to work in the ‘dark’ and no pupil should be taught inappropriate content.”
Over and above the curriculum, teachers also needed time to be trained on how to operate in the Covid-19 environment, the statement said.
“With so many teachers not returning to schools this week, this essential training is seriously lacking.
The comorbidity issues have also not been battened down properly. The department of basic education rushed to the Education Labour Relations Council this week in an attempt to hammer out an agreement on a policy in this regard.
“Discussions are still ongoing. This leaves a substantial group of teachers anxious and uncertain, not knowing whether they are expected to return to school or not,” it said.
Taking these conditions into consideration, the organisations agreed that it would be “a grievous mistake” to force the reopening of schools on Monday. They urged Motshekga to cancel her plans.