'Schools remain open until further notice', says education dept as sector meetings announced

Grade 12 pupils at Rosendaal Senior Secondary in Delft, Cape Town.
Grade 12 pupils at Rosendaal Senior Secondary in Delft, Cape Town.
Roger Sedres, Gallo Images via Getty Images
  • Children will have to wait a little longer before hearing whether they should remain at home amid Covid-19 peak, as the department engages stakeholders.
  • A meeting between unions and Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga was cancelled at the 11th hour on Wednesday.
  • Unions said evidence on the ground showed there was no effective teaching and learning at schools currently.

As pressure mounts for schools to close amid a surge in Covid-19 infections in South Africa, the Department of Basic Education says they remain open until further notice, as Minister Angie Motshekga engages with stakeholders in the sector.

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Schools have been a talking point since their reopening on 8 June, when most Grade 7 and 12 pupils returned to classrooms.

Teachers' unions, many parents and some experts were prompted to heighten their calls for schools to remain closed after pupils and teachers started testing positive across the country.

Various organisations, including Mmusi Maimane's One South Africa Movement (OSAM) and teachers' union Sadtu, have been calling for schools to close.

OSAM and Maimane, who have approached the courts, though unsuccessfully, recently staged demonstrations outside the department's offices.

On Tuesday, after holding a special national executive committee meeting, Sadtu, the country's largest teachers' union, announced it had resolved that schools close during the period, stating that its decision was motivated by among, other things, evolving science.

READ | Mixed reactions from political parties over Sadtu's call for schools to close

The National Professional Teachers' Organisation of SA (Naptosa) has also been among those that have come out with a similar resolution that the sector closes shop, at least for the period when a Covid-19 surge is expected.

Motshekga was expected to engage the unions on Wednesday, but the meetings had to be cancelled as she would be in broad consultations with stakeholders in the sector.

ALSO READ | Maimane determined to head to court, as school closure bid receives over 192 000 signatures

According to the department's spokesperson, Elijah Mhlanga, the purpose of the meetings, which will conclude on Friday, was to discuss the peak of the pandemic and its relation to schools. 

"The engagements will inform the minister's proposals to the Cabinet at the weekend. Once all the engagements have been concluded, an announcement will be made to create certainty for the sector. We wish to restate that the decision to reopen schools was taken by Cabinet after extensive consultation which culminated in the phased approach to the resumption of duty in the sector. Schools remain open until further notice," Mhlanga said in a statement on Wednesday.

Unions calling for the temporary closure have stated it would not be possible for the entire school year to be scrapped. They have said the department could use the period when schools are closed to map out a plan that would ensure pupils return to safe environments once the peak is over.

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