On Monday, the department held a series of meetings with various stakeholders in the sector to consider schools’ state of readiness.
After Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga’s announcement two weeks ago, principals and school management teams (SMTs) across the country were scheduled to resume duties on 11 May and teachers on 18 May to prepare for the return of pupils on the proposed date of 1 June.
This, however, did not happen because some provinces, such as the Eastern Cape, were still not ready to start the process, while Gauteng and the Western Cape reportedly indicated that they were.
The unions said the report from the department covered the first part of the reopening which entailed staff going to back to work and putting in place non-negotiables ahead of pupils’ return.
However, there were various loopholes in the document which related to various issues, such as the delivery of personal protective equipment (PPE), according to executive director of the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa (Naptosa), Basil Manuel.
“Saying that there are PPEs [is one story] and delivering them is another story. Those are the reports that we wanted and some of them were not shown,” he said.
Manuel said the department was expected to report back to unions on Tuesday and provide clarity on issues raised at the meeting on Monday.
The unions were also concerned that only some provinces were ready to resume.
Manuel said there needed to be a deadline by which all provinces should be ready.
“We are one country. We can’t have every province doing its own thing. We need to have fixed dates and we need to know, so that our people start preparing for those.
“And we note that schools have not all been cleaned yet and we need to know by when is the final date by which schools need to be cleaned. So it’s little things like that, that members need to know in order to have a certain amount of comfort that measures are in place,” said Manuel.
National Teachers’ Union deputy president Allan Thompson said the union was also concerned that there was a “gap between the rich and the poor, where those who have will continue to benefit and those who do not have will suffer”.
Thompson said as it stands, it seems that schools in provinces claiming to be ready are those who have a limited number of students with a large infrastructure which will allow for social and physical distancing.
“The very same schools, are those that have been able to continue teaching and learning online which means when the year ends, those schools will always get flying colours and will be the first to be accepted in universities.
“But in the vast majority of schools, you find a problem that they are, for example, still waiting to be supplied with water. They still have schools that were torched and vandalised which up to now, we have never received a report that says those schools are ready to admit learners,” said Thompson.
He added that the union was concerned that there were not any deadlines for activities such as deep cleaning and deliveries of equipment needed to clean schools.
“Other provinces, including Gauteng, have confirmed that [they have] not received all the masks but instead they have some which can be shared amongst the SMTs and be able to start the process,” he said.
Not all boxes ticked
Thompson said not all boxes in the to-do lists have been ticked which would make it a challenge for schools to start the process of reopening.
“We are saying it will be a mistake if we prematurely reopen schools. The results will be catastrophic. Our members are ready to go to work, we are ready to go to work and teach the nation but we want precautionary measures put in place [before].”
The unions said they would wait for the department to respond.
Motshekga is expected to report to the National Coronavirus Command Council on Tuesday and Cabinet on Wednesday before briefing the nation on preparations on Thursday.