Defiant teacher unions call on schools not to reopen amid 'astounding confusion'

  • Teacher unions have called on schools not to reopen amid the "astounding confusion" caused by government's last-minute one-week postponement of the resumption of classes for Grade 7 and Grade 12 pupils.
  • The unions say this is a betrayal of trust and does not bode well for the credibility of the education system.
  • They have called on the basic education minister to meet with them and governing body associations on 11 June.

Teacher unions have called on schools not to reopen amid the "astounding confusion" caused by government's last-minute one-week postponement of the resumption of classes for Grade 7 and Grade 12 pupils.

Pupils were set to return to school on Monday after its closure in mid-March due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga was expected to address the nation on Sunday evening.

However, in an about-turn on Sunday, the department postponed the briefing and announced it had decided schools would not reopen on Monday, but that pupils would only return from 8 June.

In a statement, the department said the Council of Education Ministers (CEM) was concerned that, in some provinces, personal protective equipment (PPE) for pupils had not been received and some schools had not been made ready for their return.

On Saturday, Motshekga met with unions who were convinced the education system was not ready to resume on Monday, News24 reported earlier.

School governing bodies and unions believe it is not in the best interest of children and teachers to return to school while there is uncertainty about health and safety.

In a scathing statement on Sunday, unions Naptosa, PEU, NATU, SADTU and the SAOU collectively said they  along with governing body associations  met with the CEM on Saturday and were promised feedback before the media briefing that was scheduled for Sunday.

"The response never came through until the statement which was released after two cancellations of the media briefing and despite an undertaking in the meeting by the minister on behalf of the CEM," the unions said.

According to the unions, Motshekga acknowledged that the system was not ready, and a meeting would be held on 11 June for further assessment.

"The teacher unions were vindicated by the independent monitoring consortium led by the National Education Collaboration Trust (NECT) that the system wasn't ready for the reopening of the schools for learners in Grade 7 and [Grade] 12 on 1 June.

'Betrayal of trust'

"The minister asked for time to consult her colleagues in Cabinet on the issue of [reopening on] 1 June, given the information from the independent consortium and the unions, and committed to respond on 31 May, which she did not honour.

"This is a betrayal of trust and does not bode well for the credibility of the education system. We want to put on record that the date of 8 June was never mentioned in the meeting because the focus was readying the system and ensuring that all the provinces comply with the 12 non-negotiables," the unions said.

The unions added the "astounding confusion" caused by Motshekga's statement must be condemned because the Department of Basic Education was "obsessed with dates and ignoring the evidence of provincial readiness".

"The lack of appreciation for evidence can only be characterised as irresponsible and negligent.

"As a collective, we wish to highlight our rejection of a staggered opening of schools for our children. 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 attitude of the Western Cape to define itself outside the collective must not be allowed. South Africa is one country and their insistence to go it alone undermines the unitary nature of our education system. We are not only going to scrutinise but challenge their motive."

This follows an announcement by Western Cape Education MEC Debbie Schäfer that schools in the province would be opening on Monday.

The unions said this is a time to show solidarity with the plight of other provinces and sympathy with the plight of thousands of teachers and children across the country.

"Schools across the country must prioritise the training of the teachers on the amended curriculum and allow the teachers the professional autonomy to help the learners as and when they finally return to schools.

'Don't return until there is compliance'

"Where the schools have not complied with the health and safety regulations, please be advised not to report for duty until there is compliance. This is also published in the regulations by the Minister.

"Over and above the curriculum, teachers also need time to be trained on how to operate in the Covid-19 environment. With so many teachers not returning to schools last week, this essential training is seriously lacking.

"We therefore advise all schools, even those that might be ready to reopen, having received all the necessary materials for teachers and learners, not to reopen for learners until the non-negotiables have been delivered to all schools and to inform their learners accordingly. To further contribute to disparities between schools would be irresponsible."

The unions have called on Motshekga to meet teacher unions and governing body associations on 11 June for "genuine assessment and engagement" about the readiness of the system.

"Parents, learners, teachers and education workers can be assured that we all wish schooling can resume as soon as possible, but not at the expense of their health and safety," the unions said.

Education Department spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga could not be reached for comment on Monday morning.

Motshekga is now expected to brief the nation at Sunrise View Secondary School in Rustenburg, North West, at 11:00 on Monday.

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