Teaching unions have put their voice behind calls for the temporary closure of schools – at least until after the peak of coronavirus infections in the country has passed. Answering questions at a presidential imbizo on Wednesday evening, President Cyril Ramaphosa said discussions with key stakeholders in the education sector will be held this week to seek an all-encompassing way forward.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) also warned that the premature opening of schools in areas with high community transmission rates, could cause a surge in cases. The president said that the WHO’s warning will be taken seriously. The National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa (NAPTOSA) joined the South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU) in requesting a meeting with Basic Education minister Angie Motshekga, which hadn’t materialized by Thursday.
Speaking to VOC’s Breakfast Beat on Thursday morning, Naptosa’s Executive Director Basil Manuel explained that it was a misunderstanding that one union was “waiting” on the other and that it was instead “coincidental that their meetings were held on the same day”.
“We were unaware that SADTU went on TV calling for the suspension of school year whilst NAPTOSA was finalizing its debates. But we were informed by the same issues so it’s not surprising that they would have similar conclusions,” Manuel said.
Sadtu’s secretary-general Mugwena Maluleke is also quoted as saying that evidence on the ground showed there was no effective teaching and learning at schools during the current conditions.”
Manuel said that the union was taken aback by the number of students not attending school; “majority of whose parents” kept them at home. He also noted that many of those parents also didn’t have a plan for their children’s education, but that the fear was too high.
“We really agonised over this and came to the conclusion that now is the time to say to the minister we need a review. Given the evidence of infections and school attendance and, very importantly, the levels of anxiety. It is in the best interest of schools to close during the peak and then return,” reiterated Manuel.
Both unions, however, said that learning must continue, for which they made several proposals.
The first, Manuel said, was to “disburse the idea of saving the current academic year”. Presently, the method of online teaching or having learning content readily available “is the way to go”. He noted however that the foundation phases need to solely focus on the most important subjects and drop everything else. These include those such as language which will focus on reading for understanding as well as maths.
“If we do that, we will ensure that every child’s life chances a the school improve ten-fold. if we do that even when we have a break, then children can continue because text and types of reading exercise can be sent home. It doesn’t have to be electronic,” he elaborated.
Crucial questions that also need to be answered include whether or not an exam is still relevant, considering the immense gap between those who were able to continue learning efficiently and those who could not due to financial or mobility constraints.
“Scope what needs to be covered and do not cover the entire syllabus- that gives equal chance to everyone in the system. We want a credible exam,” he added.
Commenting around the recent protest action by parents and teachers across the country, most notably in the Western Cape, Manuel also discouraged the use of avenues that would not reap results. Allegations of intimation of teachers by both the department and demonstrators, as well as the concern around the disruption of teaching and learning, were also raised.
“We mustn’t act irrationally. We must act within the bounds of the law. We are urging people not to “strike”. Follow the right course because it becomes too much of a drama trying to defend that later.”
The executive noted that the ball is now in the Department of Educations hands.
“People have to sit up and listen. If you look at the swarms of organisations coming out in support of the closure of schools during the peak, you will see the pressure is not on us – it’s on the minister (Motshekga) to explain why that is an unreasonable demand,” he said.