SADTU’s Response to the Closing of Schools as announced by the President

24 July 2020

The South African Democratic Teachers’ Union cautiously welcomes the announcement by the President of a four week non-physical contact break in order to save lives during this winter period. This announcement comes after the persistent call made by the recognised teacher unions, learner organisations and some school governing bodies and some sectors of society for schools to be closed immediately until we have gone past the COVID pandemic peak.

On the closure of schools

According to the announcement made by the President, all public schools are to close on the 24th of July, this refers to the learners, the teachers and education support personnel except the members of the school management teams. Furthermore, the Grade 12 and 7 classes are expected to return on the 3rd and 10th of August respectively, according to the announcement. It is worth highlighting however that the 10th of August is a public holiday and as such more discussions will be sought with the DBE to clarify the matter.

All teachers remain working at home from the 27th July except the specified teachers in Grade 12 and Grade 7.

It is the Union’s strong view that the DBE will have to consult organized labour and seek an agreed upon way forward in relation to the published Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for the closing and reopening of schools in confirmed COVID cases. The inconsistent application of the SOPs has led to many challenges in the schools that have consequently made it difficult for those institutions to be compliant. This conversation between the DBE, organized labour and other stakeholders should be prioritized from the 27th of July to avoid similar challenges upon the reopening of schools again.

The Union will remain vigilant as it always has during this particular discourse. It will ensure that any attempts to reduce the four weeks non-physical contact break through back-door tactics are challenged.   

It remains our well-considered view that we needed this break to work with the department,  without unnecessary pressure, to create a safe working and learning environment. 

We want to make it categorically clear that the debate about teachers’ salaries during the break or holidays is misplaced and is regrettable. It must be rejected with the contempt it deserves.  Teachers have never received overtime for all the work they do. They have never received bonuses for working after school, during holidays and weekends. It is common cause that until recently, teachers had been fighting the public service department to correct the 0,5% pay progression disparity as compared to other public servants. It is also unfortunate that some decision makers find this national crisis that affects all of society without any fear or favor as an opportunity to divide public servants through this repugnant narrative.

Teaching is caring and our teachers are always there for our children and must never be treated as lesser workers.  Their professional code recognizes their passion and sacrifices. 

The published gazette by 22 June was done without consulting the Unions and will clearly need revision to take into account the four weeks non-physical contact break and the perpetuation of the apartheid structures and inequalities.

Guided by its imperative to save the lives of teachers and learners whilst ensuring that no child is left behind, the leadership collective of SADTU decided to call for the closing of all schools until the COVID pandemic peak surpasses.

The Union wishes to table suggestions about how we could ensure that teaching and learning continues albeit in a non-physical contact form.

  • Among the proposals that we made and would want to highlight again is that firstly, there should be an increased utilisation of local radio platforms to deliver structured and interactive programmes; including camps, prioritising Grade 12.
  • Secondly, the Union proposed that there should be a well-structured approach to the utilisation of different platforms with the necessary resources such as data to support learners and educators to facilitate further teaching and learning during the peak. This must be realized now because it cannot be accepted that the privileged continue to benefit whilst the majority lags behind.
  • Thirdly, schools should determine the best method to feed learners while minimising movement and transmission of the virus considering food banks. This may include weekly packages to be collected by parents and guardians from different schools.

Corruption and the procurement of school based COVID supplies and services

We note that as part of the announcement, the President indicated that schools management teams would be expected to utilise the whole of next week to finalise the plans for this unprecedented new normal.  This will be an important period that should be used by the school management teams to ensure that all the necessary systems are put in place for the smooth roll out of all the mitigating interventions. The SMTs must be allowed flexibility in this regard to minimise movement of more people and we must trust their professional judgment on how they manage the week’s activities.

It remains a reality that whilst the schools may close in the immediate, they will resume again as the temperatures get warmer and the pandemic peak rescinds.

We are aware that during this phase, those who seek to maximise their profits through their measured and brutal exploitation of the government’s imperative to acquire the necessary materials for learners and teachers like the PPE packages will not be resting. We are calling on all our structures to unapologetically disrupt the plans of these “disaster capitalists” who see our collective suffering, as a nation, as an opportunity to accumulate wealth by exposing and reporting them to the authorities.

We therefore welcome the attempts by the President to ensure that looters are brought to book through the Presidential proclamation to authorise the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) to investigate corruption allegations in any state body during the state of disaster, refer for prosecution and take civil action to recover the stolen funds.

Consultation & Transparency

The Union is optimistic that the sound decision that has now been taken by the cabinet to close schools during the peak of the pandemic will allow us to collectively rethink, re-imagine and reinvent the education system of our country so that it truly transforms our society for the better and such that deep inequalities are addressed decisively. This phase will provide an opportunity for the system to build the resilience it requires to deal with a pandemic that could be with us for extended periods.

We must use this time to fix the problems which were putting the lives of teachers, education support personnel and learners at risk. We do not welcome the fact that the government perpetuates the inequalities in the schooling system. The apartheid structured opportunities that favoured the minority and in this instance the private, must be stopped. We don’t have a Minister for public and another for private schools.

We have to engage the department on the issues of curriculum adjustment and not talk about failing learners.  Schools must be given the flexibility in terms of the adjusted curriculum and assessment.

We are calling for an open door policy and continuous and consistent consultation as we move closer towards the phasing in of the first grades in August. All stakeholders within the sector should be consulted and the implementation of this announced phasing in plan should be supported by empirical data with considerations of the community transmissions being at the centre as advised by the WHO. 

It remains our strong view that the lives of the teachers, education support personnel, learners and indeed community members at large do matter. We are calling on our members and our learners to continue to observe all the necessary precautionary measures as advised by health authorities during this phase.

The Union will engage the department to finalize all the issues affecting the substitution of teachers and education personnel including the provision of quality PPEs from the week of the 27th of July. Any intransigence by the department which is informed by the prerogative instead of genuine consultations will be brutally challenged. The Unions are not spectators in the education system and cannot be treated like any other stakeholder. They are required by law to be consulted.

ISSUED BY: SADTU Secretariat

CONTACT:

Deputy General Secretary, Nkosana Dolopi
Secretariat Officer, Xolani Fakude
Media Officer, Nomusa Cembi