Teacher unions have “cautiously” welcomed the announcement of a four-week school closure – a call they had made following a spike in Covid-19 cases in the country.
On Thursday night, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that public schools would “take a break” from 27 July until 24 August, but that Grade 12 pupils would remain at home for one week and return on 3 August, and that those in Grade 7 would return on 10 August.
The unions argued that there was no effective teaching and learning at schools and that a break to curb the rate of Covid-19 transmission was necessary.
Following a week in which Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga held several meetings with MECs, heads of department, union representatives, school governing body associations and experts, Cabinet finally made a decision on the closure.
SA Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) general-secretary Mugwena Maluleke said they were concerned that private schools would not be affected by the break.
This thing of perpetuating the inequalities has got to stop.
“We have got to confront this so that we are then able to have one education system in our country where, when everybody has got to close, we close and when we come back, we come back,” Maluleke added.
Executive director of the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa (Naptosa), Basil Manuel, said the union was waiting to scrutinise the “full script of the decision and what underpinned it and what certain things meant, like the extension of [the academic year] into 2021”.
Manuel said while the union welcomed the four-week break, the union was concerned that Grade 12 pupils would only be at home for one week and Grade 7 pupils for two weeks.
“I don’t understand the Grade 7 decision at all, and so there is a cautious welcoming of certain things and the other things we need to find greater clarity on,” he added.
Sadtu said it would engage the department about the Grade 7 decision because it believed other grades could be phased in.
“We would also want to have more time to discuss the issue of Grade 7s because we believe there are other grades that are more in the disadvantage as it is. For example, Grade 9 needs to be choosing subjects in Grade 10 and therefore, we needed to be looking at a new strategy.”
Grade 7 is something we have got to engage them [on] because at the end of the day, this is an internal assessment-based class.
Maluleke added the union was also of the view that Grade 12 pupils would need assistance, suggesting that the department consider reintroducing “camps” in safe and “structured areas” with less movement.
Professional Educators’ Union president Johannes Motona wanted to know what informed the four-week closure decision.
Motona said this was a time the department should start thinking of other means of teaching and learning, besides physical contact.
“Grade 12 should not be reopening too soon if the 2020 academic year is going to be extended to 2021. If all learners come back on 24 August, what about social distancing in terms of availability of infrastructure? Will the safety and health regulations in terms of the Government Gazette on disaster management and standard operating procedures still be maintained?” Motona asked.
National Teachers’ Union president Allen Thompson said there was a need for a weekly assessment of the situation before a decision was made for other grades to be received.
“We are not opposed to Grade 12 coming after a one-week break, but we also have to assess the situation. If the situation is complicated, we cannot force matters and expose learners. We will appreciate if the minister can give progress reports,” Thompson said.
Promotion and progression
SA Teachers’ Union (SAOU) CEO Chris Klopper said the four-week closure was longer than what it had anticipated.
But, he added that the period of 27 July to 24 August was in line with the expected peak of the virus and believed it would give the department an opportunity to consolidate with struggling provinces.
“I think it is necessary we will have to look at the assessment and examination procedures and in all probability, the question of promotion and progression will have to be considered,” said Klopper.