Trade Union SADTU has called on the Department of Basic Education (DBE) to ensure the vetting process for recently employed teaching assistants, does not leave children at risk of being assaulted. Through the Basic Education Employment Initiative (BEEI), 200 000 education assistants and 100 000 general school assistants will be employed across South Africa. It forms part of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Presidential Employment Stimulus Programme to boost employment opportunities for youth. The DBE partnered with Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator to digitize the process, targeting those between the ages of 18 and 35 years old.
The assistants are expected to support teachers in the classroom and provide extra support to learners, while the general school assistants will cater to Covid-19 protocol adherence.
SADTU has however raised the alarm over the department’s processes. SADTU spokesperson Nomusa Cembi told VOC’s Breakfast Beat on Thursday, that they want to ensure the department does not take ‘shortcuts’.
“We are concerned about the recruitment process. We would like to see them being vetted to ensure we don’t have paedophiles and child molesters in our classrooms.”
“We do not want a situation where the department will employ assistant teachers and not qualified, permanent teachers. they will be getting paid lesser and are not really teachers. “
Cembi said that the employment of assistant teachers could be a means to extend the budget.
“It would be unfair. I would advise even assistant teachers not to be used in this manner because they end up being frustrated because they carry on doing so much work and yet, at the end of the day, they won’t get paid as much,” she explained.
“They are not qualified to teach so we are going to make sure they (don’t) and insist that the department employs qualified teachers.”
Cembi added that SADTU will make sure that the “assistant teacher sticks to their job description”.
Apart from ensuring they don’t have criminal records; another concern is clearance from the National Sexual Offenders Registry. School staff, she said, also have an important role to play.
“It will be up to the school to look at them and see whether they are able to interact with children. They should be very thorough when they do their interviews.”
Meanwhile, the spokesperson for the South African Council of Educators (SACE) Themba Ndhlovu said while the issue of assistant teachers does not form part of their programme “because it’s quite a new thing”, he agreed that vetting forms an important part of the employment.
“It’s important for schools to employ these teachers but that they undergo vetting processes.”
Ndhlovu said that their process includes demanding “a valid police clearance certificate, which (they) are able to verify with SAPS”.
“The council took the decision, that from 1 January 2019, everybody who comes to register produces a valid clearance certificate.
“We also verify teachers’ status with the Sex Offenders Register, which has its own challenges at the moment. and the Child Protection Register. We also communicate with universities and higher education institutions in terms of verifying teachers’ qualifications.”
“We want to ensure that the people we admit into the profession are beyond reproach,” he emphasised.
Ndhlovu further emphasised that SACE follows a code of professional ethic, which is extended to society to report concerns.
“If a person is aware of an incident of sexual abuse of learners – it should be brought to our (SACE) and law enforcement’s attention. There are processes where children are able to report misconduct or unbecoming conduct by teachers,” he said.
According to Ndhlovu, the Teachers Professionalisation Programme is also seeking to have teachers re-certified after 3-5 years, “to declare the teacher is fit and proper”.
He said that SACE believed that the DBE ‘has a hold on schools’ and called on principals to do ‘all in their power’ to ensure children are educated by professionals in a safe environment.
“Education is a societal matter. it can not only depend on the department. we want society to be part of ensuring that the future of the nation is safeguarded. If there is any mischief taking place in our schools, especially sexual misconduct, report to us so that we get rid of the elements abusing our children,” he concluded.