Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga is expected to meet with unions on Wednesday morning to discuss various issues, including the closure of schools ahead of the COVID-19 peak in the country.
The meeting comes a day after the largest teacher union South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) called for schools to close for now in efforts to prevent further infections from the virus and deaths from COVID-19 as the peak of the pandemic approaches.
“We are not saying go and tell everybody about the fact that Maluleke has tested positive but the people that are close and are in contact with the teacher who has tested positive, they have a right to know because they need to take action and take precautions and making sure that they start isolating but not only isolating from the school, they’ve got to start taking action at home,” says Sadtu’s General Secretary Mugwena Maluleke.
The National Teachers Union (Natu) and student body the Congress of South African Students (Cosas) have also reiterated their call for schools to be shut amid the pandemic except for the matric class of 2020, a call echoed by Sadtu.
Natu says it never initially supported the reopening of schools except for matrics only, in safe and well controlled environments.
Natu president Allen Thompson has accused the government of downplaying the numbers of infected teachers and learners in schools.
“And the department is now hiding the information. In other instances you find that the principal of a school is the one that has tested positive, but members of staff were never told and they have been with that principal since the schools have reopened. At least a minimum of six or seven teachers per school have tested positive. Teachers with comorbidities have never been substituted, teachers are dying in the schools and they are also testing positive day in and day out.”
SADTU explains call for immediate closure of schools:
Cosas says while it supports the closure of schools, it however believes matrics should complete their final school year.
Sinovuyo Mankayi from Cosas says: “We do welcome the call that they make for schools and as Cosas we continue with our campaign of shutting down schools until we feel it’s appropriate for learners to go back. As a matriculant myself we would hate to repeat matric next year, we want to save the academic year but at the same time we must ensure that the environment allows us to study and the situation doesn’t disadvantage us as matriculants.”
The National Professional Teachers’ Organisation (Naptosa) is also supporting calls for the suspension of schools for now, as per advise from the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The world health body has warned against the reopening of schools while local transmissions of the coronavirus are on the rise.
“This is essential if we are going to protect the physical and mental health of our teachers, education support personnel, learners and parents, who it must be emphasised are already taking strain, whilst in the President’s words, we are now heading into the storm,” the organisation’s Executive Basil Manuel says in a statement.
Manuel, however, says the abandonment of the academic year would be irresponsible. He says a plan on how to take the academic year to a close is needed.
Cosas supports Sadtu’s call for schools’ closure:
Meanwhile, Paul Colditz from the Federation of School Governing Bodies of South Africa is opposed to the closure of schools.
“It’s like any other illness that may affect a school. This is obviously more serious in terms of the rate of infection and the possible consequences for adults but the medical evidence is clear that children, although they may contract the disease they don’t suffer the same consequences as those people at risk 60 and above with comorbidities,” he says.
The Education Department says it has noted the calls for closure of schools but institutions of learning should be treated like other sectors in society who have resumed operations.
“We need to have a broader look and say how do we reduce community infections? How you do that is to have a comprehensive approach to it which means all of us need to play our part in making sure we comply with the requirements for health and safety wherever we are,” says Basic Education Spokesperson, Elijah Mhlanga.
“It cannot be that we isolate certain parts and say close this one and open this one allows people to get into the taxi but don’t allow them to use that taxi to school” adds Mhlanga.
In the video below, Sadtu briefs the media as COVID-19 cases rise rapidly: