A teacher faces a packed classroom in a school in Mthatha. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
A teacher faces a packed classroom in a school in Mthatha. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

The government is pulling out all the stops in ensuring learning takes place under strict conditions when schools reopen, President Cyril Ramaphosa said.

Parents, teachers, governing bodies and the government agree that no school should reopen until all precautions are in place, Ramaphosa said.

“There needs to be transparency about the level of preparedness of each of the schools,” the president said in his weekly newsletter on Monday.

“Everyone who is a key role player — be they a parent, a school governing body member, a teacher or a government official — should be able to have the correct information about the state of preparedness of each school. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that the learning environment is safe.”

The basic education department said on Sunday evening that while schools will still reopen on Monday, June 1, with the return of school management teams, teachers and non-teaching staff, pupils will now return to school next Monday. Only grade 12s and grade 7s will return for now in terms of the phased reopening.

“This coming week must be used for the proper orientation and training of teachers, the mopping and ramping of all supply chain matters, and final touches to the readiness of each facility for the arrival of learners,” the department said.

Apprehension

Basic education minister Angie Motshekga is expected to address the media later on Monday morning.

While young people are eager to be in school again and to see their friends and teachers, there is also apprehension on the part of parents, educators and pupils themselves, Ramaphosa said.

“Parents want reassurance that the necessary precautions [will] be in place to adequately protect learners,” he said.

“The safety of our youngest citizens from a health and physical perspective is not negotiable. It is our foremost priority.”

At issue is that the education sector unions have rejected the department’s plan to reopen schools while many of them, especially those in remote rural areas, lack adequate water, sanitation and personal protective equipment (PPE).

Ramaphosa said that they are continuing with the process of delivering PPE and ensuring the availability of water and sanitation services.

“Learning, once it commences, will take place under strict conditions with a correctly limited number of learners and students,” he said.

As the government prepares for the gradual reopening of schools, education authorities have been hard at work putting health and safety measures in place, he said.

Teacher unions including 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 Onderwysersunie (Saou), said in a joint statement on Sunday that they reject the “staggered opening” of schools.

“No school must be left behind, especially not because of incompetence and tardiness. Given the historical injustices it is obvious which schools will be left behind should a staggered approach to schools reopening be followed. This we cannot allow, no matter the justification,” the unions said.

“We therefore advise all schools, even those that might be ready to reopen, having received all the necessary materials for teachers and learners, not to reopen for learners until the non-negotiable [commitments] have been delivered to all schools and to inform their learners accordingly. To further contribute to disparities between schools would be irresponsible.”

The non-negotiable commitments pertain to the fumigation and disinfection of schools; school infrastructure in the form of proper toilet facilities; observance of social distancing; reduction in class sizes; provision of soap, sanitisers and masks; and the screening of pupils, teachers and support personnel.

mkentanel@businesslive.co.za

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