Unions, SGBs concerned about matric, Grade 7 attendance and space for more grades

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  • It's been just over a week since matrics returned to school and some unions are concerned about attendance.
  • Social distancing remains a concern as more grades are expected to return from 24 August. 
  • The South African Teachers' Union says closing schools again should be avoided because it affects teachers who occupy SGB posts.

While teachers' unions are comfortable with the return of pupils in Grades 7 and 12, some are concerned about schools' readiness to welcome other grades from 24 August. 

The unions are also concerned about the attendance of those in Grades 7 and 12.

According to National Professional Teachers' Organisation of South Africa executive director, Basil Manuel, schools were not only closed for a few weeks to curb the spread of Covid-19 infections, but to allow the education department to strengthen its safety measures and to make sure schools are compliant.

"Now, the question is - has the [department] managed to [ensure schools are safe]? We have done a survey, and we will have results by tomorrow," Manuel said. 

The survey was jointly conducted by the country's five teacher unions, including the biggest, the South African Democratic Teachers' Union (Sadtu).

Sadtu spokesperson Nomusa Cembi said the poll results would give insight into their concerns, such as the delivery of personal protective equipment (PPE) and the provision of water and sanitation.

Communication with parents

Manuel said an average of 70% of matriculants across provinces returned last week after their one-week break. He said by Tuesday, the percentage had risen to about 75%. 

Grade 12 pupils were given a week's break and returned on 3 August, while those in Grade 7 got a two-week recess and went back on Tuesday. 

Manuel added that Tuesday's attendance from Grade 7 pupils was also poor, averaging about 55%. He said the union had not received reports from all provinces. 

"We are also saying the DBE (Department of Basic Education) needs to communicate a little more effectively with parents as a whole; number one, to ensure that [parents] start recognising that schools are safe environments, and the only way we do that is by showing them that the department is coming to the party with the delivery of all these PPEs," he said.

South African Teachers' Union(SAOU) executive director, Chris Klopper said feedback from the union's provincial secretary about the state of the reopening was "satisfactory" and that most of their members had also gone back.

READ | Education dept issues warning to those threatening to shut down schools

Avoid further closure

Klopper said they also received feedback that the curriculum would be completed. 

He said the further closure of schools should, however, be avoided because this had a negative impact on the employment of staff who are employed in SGB (school governing body) posts because parents tended to refrain from paying fees.

"We cannot afford to place these valuable educators and other staff members at risk. Therefore, further closures should be avoided. We are also grateful that the NSC  (national senior certificate) timetable was made available yesterday.

"Secondary schools will now be able to finalise their preparations for the Grade 12 exams that will commence on 5 December," said Klopper. 

Professional Educators' Union president Johannes Motona said they were concerned that the department seemingly continued to do nothing about challenges they had raised before schools were closed. 

The union said some schools continued to work with low numbers of teaching staff because some were not reporting for duty due to comorbidities - and no replacements had been effected yet. 

Motona said teachers were supposedly working from home but "what further defies logic and also going against provisions of the collective agreement, is that many of these teachers have not yet [been] given work to do remotely".

The union said many schools were still grappling with water shortages and ablution facilities.

The National Association of School Governing Bodies said it continued to be concerned about the health and safety of schools because it learnt that there were still shortages of PPEs and teachers, its CEO Matekanye Matakanye told News24.

Matakanye said there seemed to be no "proper plan" and that the association was also concerned about a lack of space for the return of pupils in other grades from 24 August.

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