The National Executive Committee (NEC) of the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union, the biggest union in the education and public service sectors, today held a special meeting to come up with an urgent response to the spikes in COVID 19 cases in our schools.
The rate of community transmissions are impacting on schooling. The frontline workers who are at the coalface of the pandemic have been infected and affected. We remember all the workers, children and families whose members have succumbed to the virus. We grieve with all our members and every family in our country. We are in a crisis and every life matters.
The special NEC resolved that the schools should close until after the peak.
When the Minister of Basic Education announced that schools would be opened under Alert Level 4, SADTU, together with other teacher unions, called on the Minister to ensure the safety of teachers, lecturers, education support personnel, learners and students because we could not afford to lose lives. Above all, we raised concerns about the readiness of the provincial departments with regards to the availability of health and safety essentials that had to be put in place before the opening of institutions.
We urged the Departments to comply with the 14 non-negotiables that were required by the law before our learning institutions could resume any activities. These non-negotiables would have ensured that the learning and teaching environment is compliant and optimal for school based activities to unfold in safe conditions. All evidence on the ground is that there is no effective teaching and learning that is taking place under the current conditions. The pandemic has led to a pandemonium in the education sector and this can be linked to the lack-lustre leadership that we have been experiencing from the Department of Basic Education at various levels.
The decision of the NEC to call for the schools to close for this period was informed by the following:
1. The peak:
In the country, the virus is reaching its peak and at the same time, we are in the winter season which is known for its influenza season. The Scientists have been advocating for flu shots for everyone since March this to protect the immune system and also avoid clogging the health care system during this period.
The community infections have been increasing since the reopening of the schools and inevitably affecting schooling.
2. The Science evolution:
When the debate about reopening schools began it was guided by the science that was explicit that the children were not susceptible to infections and that even if infected were not capable of infecting other children but could infect those with vulnerabilities especially the elderly.
The studies done presented a picture where indeed the learners in Australia and Italy were not infecting each other.
The South African situation has provided another side of the virus where so many learners have been infected and seven have lost their lives. The evolution of the virus compelled the leadership to request a meeting with the Minister to engage on how to respond because this is a health issue and requires health experts. We call on the the Minister of Education through the NICD to use the Peak period to provide answers to the teachers and come up with new strategies to curb the spread and save lives.
The other development that compelled the leadership to request a meeting with the Minister was the airborne nature of the virus. This required the response in how to deal with the classroom situation. It required new ways of treating closed environments and the ventilation issues. Can we open the windows in the middle of a freezing winter day? The Peak and the influenza period offered an opportunity to get the scientist to work on the response whilst the learners were at home.
3. The inconsistencies in the application of the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and the Department of Health:
The different interpretations and applications of the SOPs were presenting discomfort from the principals and the teachers. This matter is compounded by the lack of capacity or overburdened health care system to respond to the SOPs expectations. This is a serious matter that puts lives and health of everyone at risk and needed urgent attention. The suspension of classes during this peak would afford the platforms entrusted with regulations and protocols to amend and train the users. The situation is dire and impacts on everyone in the community and not only schools because schools are the microcosm of the society. The other health issues related to the SOPs and its applications were isolation and quarantine periods and the secrecy around contact persons and those infected which in itself was exacerbating the transmissions.
The NEC call on all to avoid using education as a platform to gain cheap political points but also urge the powers that be to get their ears on the ground and respond to the loud calls of our communities in suspending classes during the peak and the delay of the return other grades in order help the stabilization of both healt and education system.
This is not about power play of a win or lose but about a real consideration that learning can’t take place under the current conditions of closing and reopening of schools almost everyday since the return of both Grade 7 and 12.
Some of the conspicuous challenges that teachers and school managers face include the following:
· A significant number of schools are already experiencing a high number of absenteeism due to the anxiety and fear that both learners and parents are experiencing.
· The Standard Operating Procedures for the closure of schools upon the confirmation of a positive case are not being implemented consistently and uniformly across the provinces. As a result, schools are on autopilot and acting outside of the Standard Operating Procedures.
· The appointment of substitute teachers to address the high absenteeism due to sick leave has not been addressed and this put pressure on the limited staff members
· Psychosocial services that are now required on an urgent basis to mitigate against the anxiety that is experienced in schooling communities has not been effected as earlier committed to by the Minister.
· Poor infrastructure continues to define the education of the working child in the townships and rural communities.
The NEC upon receiving all provincial reports about the dire state of the system on the ground thus took the decision to call on the DBE to suspend all schooling activities with immediate effect until the peak of the pandemic has rescinded. The NEC further makes a call that whilst consideration should be made for the Gr 12s class in strictly controlled environments like camps. There should be a consideration to align their examinations in line with the DHET plans so that pressure and anxiety is addressed.
The NEC called for the following to happen whilst the schools are closed in order to ensure that learning continues:
· Co-ordinated radio lessons by teachers. These would reach more learners in far flung areas
· Interactive radio lessons;
· Well co-ordinated television programmes;
· Use of mobile phones to access content and the curriculum
· Use of education Apps where content is verified
· Use of social media such as WhatsApp
· Provision of infrastructure and gadgets for online learning
· Provision of data to teachers in particular Grade 12 to assist with WhatsApp and other forms of online learning
The union remains concerned by the allegations of corruption during this Lockdown and with the reopening of the schools in particular. Edupreneurs have no shame and continue to steal, even sell fake and poor quality PPEs . We call on our structures to provide us with more information to empower us to lay charges and call for immediate action by law enforcing agencies.
ISSUED BY: SADTU Secretariat
General Secretary Mugwena Maluleke: 082 783 2968
Deputy General Secretary, Nkosana Dolop: 082 709 5651
Media Officer, Nomusa Cembi: 082 719 5157
Secretariat Officer, Xolani Fakude: 071 355 1566