A pending Cabinet reshuffle amid a lot of other pressures could be behind Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga’s rush to open schools at any cost. She is not the only one worried about the political future: all ministers fear the chop and want to be seen delivering as they are unsure of their future in government, a reliable source in the tripartite alliance said. The education minister has been pushing since the middle of May for schools to reopen. Initial deadlines targeted 18 May as the return date for teachers, followed a week later by Grade 7 and Grade…
A pending Cabinet reshuffle amid a lot of other pressures could be behind Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga’s rush to open schools at any cost.
She is not the only one worried about the political future: all ministers fear the chop and want to be seen delivering as they are unsure of their future in government, a reliable source in the tripartite alliance said.
The education minister has been pushing since the middle of May for schools to reopen. Initial deadlines targeted 18 May as the return date for teachers, followed a week later by Grade 7 and Grade 12 pupils.
However, as it has become apparent that schools around the country had not fulfilled sanitation requirements, or did not have adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), the return deadline was delayed to 8 June.
Motshekga is in a catch-22 situation, facing multipronged pressure from various interested parties, with some unions calling for her to be fired because of her handling of the back-to-school transition.
She has to deliver to President Cyril Ramaphosa, unions, parents and suppliers of PPE who want their products used at schools.
Two tripartite alliance sources said separately the suppliers had put heavy pressure on the department to make good on its promises to take their material, even if some schools were unable to open.
A senior alliance member asked why a Covid-19 anticorruption process had not been established, specifically for the supply chain framework.
“I am suspicious of capture by those with a financial interest in the supply chain procurements, wanting to flout and deviate from the Public Finance Management Act regulations,” the source said.
The pressure by concerned parents and education unions opposed to the opening of schools made it difficult for Motshekga to proceed with her plan. She had to compromise by letting only those that were ready open.
Recently, all the unions united to demand that schools must be properly equipped with PPE before teachers returned.
They also asked for water and sanitation to be in sufficient supply at schools.
At least 1,500 schools in the country were still using pit latrines and many rural schools have no water.
While the Western Cape authorities have managed to convince teachers and pupils to return, other provinces’ schools were unable to open because they had not secured sufficient PPE. Parents had also refused to allow their children to go back.
On social media, angry parents threatened to hold Western Cape Premier Alan Winde and his education MEC, Debbie Schafer, accountable should their children and teachers at school contract coronavirus in the next few months.
Habibia Primary’s school governing body (SGB) resolved not to open for Grade 7s but to allow teachers to report for duty. SGB chairperson N van Wyk said it was a unanimous decision as they believed that “prevention is better than cure”.
Van Wyk said they supported the view of the teacher unions that safety of teachers and pupils was paramount.
But education experts are still optimistic about the year ahead, despite the crisis. They said it was evident Motshekga was under tremendous pressure and she was anxious for the academic year not to be wasted.
Linda Chisholm, professor at the Centre for Education Rights and Transformation at the University of Johannesburg, said Motshekga was dealing with an “extremely complex, uneven, unequal, diverse and multifaceted system” with different pressures and imperatives.
“They have to strike a balance and the messiness is evidence of the difficulty of holding all the parts together.
“They have to balance the right to education versus the right to health, the interests of many diverse sectoral stakeholders and take into account evidence of readiness,” Chisholm said.
Wits University education policy expert Professor Brahm Fleisch said what happened in the next few months would determine the future of education.
“If there are more disruptions or lockdown is intensified, they may not be able to finish.
“They have to consider the best option on the basis of what happens. But the minister’s plan is sound as long as nothing happens,” he added.
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