Schools are not fit to open – Fresh headache for education minister as plans go down the drain

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Unions underline major challenges that affect most provinces and demand that education department sorts these out before kids and teachers return to class

Budget constraints, poor planning and dysfunctionality in some provinces are likely to form part of talks tomorrow between Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga and the political heads of education in the provinces. Motshekga announced on Thursday that she would hold the special meeting with the Council of Education Ministers to discuss the state of readiness of their provinces. The council is made up of education MECs, who are the political heads of the provincial education departments.

Also tomorrow, Mathanzima Mweli, director-general of the basic education department, will hold a meeting with the heads of provincial education departments to discuss related matters.

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Motshekga postponed a press conference at the last minute on Thursday because of delays in the delivery of personal protective equipment (PPE).

This meant that school management teams could not report for duty as was planned on Tuesday.

City Press understands that the provinces were at different levels in terms of their readiness.

Some were allegedly putting pressure on Motshekga to reopen schools.

SA Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) general secretary Mugwena Maluleke told City Press on Friday that provinces would not be ready to reopen schools by June 1. There had been growing concern about putting teachers and pupils at risk of being infected with the Covid-19 coronavirus if they returned to schools by June 1.

Maluleke said the move by Motshekga to brief the media on Thursday would have been premature and would have damaged the public education system.

“This is because the provinces were far from ready to comply with the Covid-19 regulations, that is, screening, disinfecting the schools and offices, and delivery of the PPEs as required. We are convinced as Sadtu that the provinces will not be ready by June 1 because they were not ready for the return of school management teams on May 11.”

A major challenge that provinces faced was the government’s policy about allocating funds. Maluleke said the so-called equitable share formula for providing funding to provinces was a disaster.

“We have been calling for a review, but politicians who enjoy their warm seats in Parliament forget the structural inequalities. The virus has illuminated these pre-existing inequalities because of which the poor will not have the PPEs on time.”

He said water, a basic need, would not be provided for pupils to wash their hands. “Apartheid racism designed the value of the black majority to be worthless and the 1994 democratic breakthrough did not change that structure and design.”

Maluleke said North West had no money to appoint education support personnel, but the Western Cape and Gauteng could do so.

“Is it okay for Gauteng and the Western Cape to proceed with education while Limpopo can’t? Should we accept that? Why? Because poor provinces have human beings, but in reality they don’t matter. It’s okay to be in a school without ablution facilities in the poorest of the poor communities because that’s how apartheid racism valued them. Our lives – as the majority of the poor – are not valued. Our health is not valued because that’s how it was designed,” Maluleke said.

He questioned why it was right that pupils in Limpopo, the Eastern Cape and other rural provinces did not have online education during the lockdown.

“They don’t matter because the opportunities were structured to exclude them. So, while we all face the virus they have more ‘viruses’ to deal with from the pre-existing inequalities. So, the minister did well to go and push for more work to [ensure compliance] rather than addressing the nation and demoralising all of us.

“An integrated plan is required and the government must provide funds to poor provinces to comply with the regulations,” he said.

Basil Manuel, executive director of the National Professional Teachers of SA (Naptosa), said he was not sure what led to Motshekga’s decision to postpone the briefing. He said teacher unions had informed her of the challenges at a meeting on May 11.

“Their [the education department] contention was that the system was ready and we pointed out that seven of the nine provinces had not left the initial starting block and the other two provinces were not 100% ready. We asked how she could declare that the system was ready. We highlighted glaring problems, such as the lack of delivery of PPEs.”

Manuel said it was likely that schools would reopen in June, but not on the first day of the month because there were still lots of blank spots.

Naptosa members reported that in Gauteng and the Western Cape there were many schools that did not have PPEs. Some had received their consignments, but this was not the case in KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape and other provinces.

“Even their district and regional offices have not opened yet, which calls into question whether, by June 1, we will be ready. So, what am I hoping for? I’m hoping for a very sober, clinical analysis on the part of the basic education department to examine the cold, hard facts and not be pressured by the need to reopen schools at the expense of the health and safety of our teachers, our non-teaching staff and our pupils,” Manuel said.

He said non-teaching staff were critical to ensure that this virus did not spread.

Other challenges included overcrowding, social distancing and water issues. “Those are big,” he said.

Chris Klopper, the chief executive of the Suid Afrikaanse Onderwysers Unie, said on Thursday that a number of provinces were nowhere close to being ready to commence this week. “In fact, it is clear that several district offices are not functional,” he said.

– Citypress


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