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

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.

“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.

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 of schools for reopening on Monday.

“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 reads.

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 on 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 the 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.

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 the state of readiness of schools to be held on Sunday evening.

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.

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