Picture: THE TIMES
Picture: THE TIMES

An online survey of teacher unions has shown that a majority of schools lacked proper mechanisms to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic, raising fears that both learners and teachers could be exposed to the coronavirus.

Basic education minister Angie Motshekga announced on Tuesday that schools across SA will open on June 1 in a phased manner, starting with grades 7 and 12. Teachers will return to schools on May 25.

But the results of the survey painted a scary picture of a lack of preparedness for the reopening of schools. Most schools surveyed  felt that the government was rushing the reopening and that little had been done to ensure the safety of schoolchildren, teachers and other staff.

The survey by the SA Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu), the National Teachers Union (Natu), the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of SA (Naptosa), the Professional Educators’ Union (Peu) and the Suid-Afrikaanse Onderwysers Unie (Saou), was sent to all members, but only principals were asked to submit a response.

The unions said a total of 9,365 responses were received, representing about 40% of schools in the country.

According to the survey, 79% of schools have not yet received the necessary Covid-19 regulations relating to health and safety, while 60% of principals reported that their circuit manager had not yet been in touch with them to explain what’s required of them as schools prepared to reopen.

It also found that 44% of schools do not have adequate access to water for Covid-19 hygiene purposes. The most affected schools were in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Free State, Mpumalanga, Limpopo and the North West.

According to the poll, 92% of schools reported that their offices have not yet been cleaned and disinfected, 95% of schools said their classrooms have not yet been disinfected, and 78% said their sanitation facilities lacked soap and water.

The much-needed face masks have not yet been delivered in 99% of the schools, according to the survey, which also revealed that 94% of schools said sanitisers have not yet been delivered.

“Eighty-four percent (84%) of principals that responded to the survey report that they have not yet discussed safety procedures with the SGB [school governing body]. This is a crucial gap that requires attention at national and provincial levels as parental confidence is key to reopening,” the survey noted, adding: “Subsequent surveys will address this more deeply.”

Motshekga attracted criticism during the media briefing on Thursday evening for saying she “cannot guarantee” that every single learner will be safe from contracting the coronavirus when schools reopen on June 1. The coronavirus has infected 17,200 and killed 312 in SA.

Motshekga said a revised school calendar, setting out new term dates, will shortly be published in the government gazette.

mkentanel@businesslive.co.za