TimesSELECT 07 May 2020

The South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) is conducting an in-depth survey among its members in a bid to gauge their reaction to the reopening of schools.

Titled “The challenge of going back to school”, teachers are asked to respond to a list of questions, which include “the pre-requirements” for the opening of the more than 23,000 public schools across the country on a staggered basis.

There were about 407,000 teachers at public schools last year, the majority of whom were Sadtu members.

They are asked about the most appropriate “pre-requirements”, such as screening, disinfecting and the provision of personal protection equipment.

Sadtu members must also rate how concerned they are about each of the following, on a scale ranging from “I am okay” to “I am terrified”:

  •   I am in a high-risk category and might get sick and die;
  •   I will make my family members sick;
  •   I will never be able to cover the curriculum;
  •   The learners will not stick to sanitary routines; and
  •   There is not enough space for social distancing.

Teachers are asked whether they feel confident that their school will be safe to reopen in a month and whether parents will be confident about sending their children to school.

Sadtu informed its members that the purpose of the survey was to obtain feedback about “what’s happening on the ground”.

“The data collected will assist in identifying gaps, if any, in understanding the challenges of opening schools,” the survey document stated.

Sadtu’s general secretary, Mugwena Maluleke, told SABC’s news channel 404 recently that the basic education department’s recovery plan “has not been thoroughly thought of and engaged with” for the public and the union to say that the plan will be able “to mitigate the spread of the disease”.

“Our position is that if you provide us with all the essentials then there is reason for us to be able to say: ‘Yes, you have been able to meet the minimum as required, such as providing us with masks and looking at social distancing’.”

The union is adamant that no school will be allowed to open until the minimum requirements are met. Some of these include the fumigation and disinfection of schools; proper toilet facilities and classrooms; observance of social distancing in classrooms; reduction of class sizes; the screening of pupils and teachers; and the provision of soap, sanitisers and masks.

Basil Manuel, executive director of the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of SA (Naptosa), said: “We moved from a point where we put on the table our concerns and demands. Now we are monitoring to see if the department can deliver.

“We would not hesitate to challenge any unlawful action. It is the employer’s responsibility to create a safe working environment.”

Manuel said Naptosa members want to go back to school and are anxious about the children they left behind, whether they are in grade 1 or 12.

“But they [teachers], too, have their own fears. A number of them have fears that you can’t  even imagine. We are saying: ‘Let’s get this thing done; let’s get it done properly and let us see that the entire system is showing that we are actually managing this disease’.”

Meanwhile, there is no indication when education department officials will be returning to work.

Last week, basic education minister Angie Motshekga announced that office-based staff would resume duty on Monday to get the sector ready for the reopening of schools.

However, staff are anxious to know when they will be returning, as only those from the top structures in the national and provincial education departments returned to work on Monday.

The department’s director-general, Mathanzima Mweli, informed head-office staff that only he and his deputy directors-general and their “identified staff”, as well as Motshekga and deputy minister Makgabo Reginah Mhaule, will resume duty.

“All other categories of staff should remain at home until you are duly informed. By the end of the week ending May 8, all staff will be informed of the plan to phase in the return of staff.”

In a circular dated May 3, titled “Postponement of reopening of offices”, the Gauteng education department’s superintendent-general, Edward Mosuwe, said all staff based at head office and in the districts, “with exception of senior managers and essential service workers”, should not report for duty.

“It is important to ensure that our facilities are only occupied when there is some level of readiness for work to resume.’’

Mosuwe said the reopening of the Gauteng schooling system “needs a properly planned process, which includes the readiness of all facilities in terms of decontamination, personal protective equipment (PPE) and reorientation”.

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