Motshekga to address nation after meeting with unions, who insist schools not ready for reopening

  • Education unions and School Governing Bodies (SGBs) maintain the education system is not ready for the reopening of schools.
  • Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga is set to brief the nation on Sunday evening.
  • SGBs and unions flagged their concerns with the minister in a Saturday meeting.

Education unions met with Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga on Saturday in a bid to convince her that despite her announcement that the phased reopening of schools would commence on Monday, the education system was simply not ready to do so in its current state.

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"Our position still stands, we met with the department yesterday [Saturday] and presented this to the minister [Angie Motshekga], which she said she would consult [on] and get back to us," South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) spokesperson Nomusa Cembi told News24 on Sunday.

The Professional Educators' Union (PEU), who was also in the meeting on Saturday, confirmed to News24 that the position remained the same.

"We were part of the meeting, the position is the same – the sector is not ready. The department has not delivered on its mandate, in terms of the non-negotiables, they have not complied. If the sector opens, it must open at once, not according to individual schools.

"The minister has to inform us before going public, we will see today," PEU president Johannes Motona said, referring to Motshekga's planned address to the nation at 18:00 on Sunday evening.

The National Association of School Governing Bodies' general secretary Matakanye Matakanya told the SABC on Sunday they had also been part of the meeting calling for a halt to the reopening.

This comes after the National School Governing Body Associations (Federation of School Governing Bodies of South Africa, National Association of School Governing Bodies and the Governing Body Foundation) met with education trade unions Sadtu, Naptosa, SAQU, PEU and NATU on Thursday to consider and discuss the state of readiness for the reopening of schools.

"Information gained from members of the unions and associations on the ground guided the discussions and led to a unanimous position that the education system, as matters currently stand, is not ready for the reopening of schools," a joint statement read.

READ: 'Don't stand in way' of those who want to return - Motshekga confident schools are ready to open

While both the SGBs and unions acknowledged the right to basic education, they did not believe it to be in the best interest of children to return to schools when there was uncertainty about health and safety.

In summary, the teacher unions and national governing body associations have flagged some of the following concerns:

-        Provincial departments have not been able to deliver personal protective equipment (PPE) for all returning staff and pupils.

-        Many schools have not been cleaned or disinfected as per the direction of the Department of Employment and Labour.

-        The amended curriculum has not yet been provided to schools.

-        The essential training of teachers about how to operate in the Covid-19 environment is seriously lacking.

-        Comorbidity issues have not been battened down properly.

Taking all of the above into consideration, the unions and governing body associations believe it would be a mistake to reopen schools on Monday.

"It is believed that the minister should retract her announcement in this regard and delay any further announcement to give the system more time to ready itself for a common reopening, because if not, we will see a haphazard reopening situation," the joint statement read.

The SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) on Thursday also issued a statement, saying it had conducted its own independent monitoring of school readiness in all nine provinces. It said it had written to Motshekga recommending that she reconsiders 1 June as the date for the return of Grade 7 and Grade 12 pupils to school.

"Feedback from our provincial offices is that many schools have not achieved the required readiness to receive learners. Most observations from our provincial offices highlight the shortage or inadequacy of water and sanitation as well as personal protective equipment.

"Some even reported that the necessary training was still outstanding. Other observations made during monitoring in provinces are that the levels of readiness for many rural schools are significantly low," the SAHRC said in its statement.

According to a report by the Sunday Times, during the "marathon" Saturday night meeting, which was also attended by MECs, Motshekga acknowledged that "the system is not completely ready".

News24 reached out to the basic education department's spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga for comment, to which he responded with details of a media briefing on Sunday evening on the state of readiness of schools.

News24 further contacted Mhlanga for comment on the concerns of unions and associations. He was not immediately available for comment, and it will be added once received.

However, in an opinion piece published in the publication, Mhlanga said the department had taken stringent measures in line with Department of Health protocols to protect pupils, teachers and workers.

"The delivery of Covid-19 essentials has progressed well through the week. Many of our schools in far-flung districts have received these supplies and we have mobilised parents and other community members to help with cleaning and fumigating of school premises," Mhlanga said."We have held workshops and meetings with principals to train them on the hygiene protocols. We are also engaging the services of a brigade of young adults who will be stationed at schools to manage the new protocols. These young adults will be trained as community agents who will promote the uptake of this new practice of washing hands, keeping social distance and refraining from close contact."We are confident that we have put adequate measures in place to mitigate the risk of infection on our school premises. We have communicated these, and our principals and educators are aware of the Covid-19 protocols."

He said it was important for schools to resume in earnest on Monday so that the education system could establish the extent of the impact of Covid-19 on teachers and pupils. "We will then put in place appropriate measures to support all those affected."

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