The reopening of schools later this month may lead to a spike in Covid-19 infections, a teachers’ union said on Monday as it called on the department of basic education to “think carefully” about the move.
This as the DA conceded that pushing out the reopening date — now set for January 27 — would cause more harm than good.
The National Teachers’ Union (Natu) said pupils from historically disadvantaged schools had fallen behind in the curriculum coverage last year, which saw many pupils not completing the academic year.
“Many learners remain unaccounted for between March and December 2020,” said general secretary Cynthia Barnes. “It is for this reason that we call upon the Department of Education to ensure that its risk-adjusted strategy is sensitive to the fact that some schools are bound to suffer more than others, if schools open before the conditions are right.
“We have no choice but to appeal to the department to ensure that all the non-negotiables are delivered to all schools in time. Otherwise, to further contribute to, and exacerbate, the disparities among the South African schools would be irresponsible and indeed unsympathetic to the plight of thousands of our teachers and children.”
The union said it appeared that the department would fail to provide the required PPEs, water, sanitation facilities, ensure social distancing and employ substitute and temporary teachers on time — as it did last year. The non-compliance with health and safety requirements contributed significantly to the rate of Covid-19 in schools, the union suggested.
“Natu appeals to the department to think very carefully about when schools could safely open. We therefore challenge the department to be as focused on saving lives as it is on saving livelihoods. It would appear that, in deciding to keep the economy open, the department does not know where to leave schoolchildren when their parents work. Accordingly, the school is seen to be a necessary tool for babysitting the children.
“Natu is concerned that when these children return from different vacation points after the Christmas break, these schools could turn into super-spreader sites for Covid-19 infections,” said Barnes.
Department spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga did not respond to queries at the time of publishing.
Meanwhile, the DA has called for basic education minister Angie Motshekga to provide clarity on whether schools will reopen on January 27, amid speculation of an extension to mid-February.
“We do not support such a delay as this will likely do more harm than good and will only lead to schools being subjected to the same chaos that they were subjected to during the 2020 academic year,” said Baxolile Nodada, DA’s shadow minister of basic education.
The party said a Covid-19 vaccine was the only solution to the challenges confronted by the education sector, adding that teachers needed to be classified as front-line workers.
“We strongly believe that the opening of schools should not compromise the health of learners and teachers. It is for this reason that the DA calls for educators to be classified as essential front-line workers in order for them to be prioritised after health-care workers and at-risk civilians for the Covid vaccine,” said Nodada.