SADTU media statement in anticipation of the reopening of the schools and colleges in the context of ALERT4 LEVEL of the virus

24 April 2020

The South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (SADTU) is looking forward to the addresses to the nation by the Ministers of Education about the reopening of schools as mentioned President Cyril Ramaphosa in his address to the nation.

We wish to raise the following with both basic and higher education ministers as they will be addressing the nation. The first priority is the safety of all our learning institutions because we cannot afford to lose lives. Corpses can neither be taught nor teach.

SADTU is concerned about the safety of teachers, lecturers, education support personnel and learners and students. Above all, we are concerned about the readiness of the provincial departments with regard to the availability of health and safety essentials that have to be put in place in the learning institutions at least two weeks before any activity can take place.

We have the right to be concerned because Alert 4 Level requires honesty, transparency and accuracy regarding readiness with precautionary measures. We are raising these things because our sister Union, DENOSA has raised these matters and provinces concealed the facts about their readiness until the Minister of Health was shocked when he visited one of the hospitals in the Eastern Cape. We believe education is an enabler. However, it can only be effective in a conducive and safe environment.

We urge these Departments to comply with the following minimum requirements for any phasing in or staggered approach to the reopening of our learning institutions two weeks before any learning activity can take place:-

  1. The institutions be fumigated and disinfected. The Department of Health and Labour and Employment should concur that such has happened in compliance with Alert 4 Level precautions.
  2. The provision of proper sanitation which means the delivery of water tankers with guarantees of water inside those tankers in all institutions that have no running water. Secondly, the provision of hygiene toilets where there are no flushing toilets. This is a basic human right and is about the dignity of all human beings.

There can be no hand hygiene without continuous water supply. Pit latrines are by design a health hazard and we are informed that this virus is more vicious to those who have these types of pre-existing conditions. The apartheid racism has structured the lives of the poor majority to be the candidates to any pandemic and this virus has exposed these pre-existing conditions. We call on the Department of Public Works to collaborate with education to ensure that these facilities are safe and promote the dignity of all in these learning institutions and offices.

  1. The provision of temperature scanners for the daily screening of everyone and the delivery of such is evident and functional. The department of health has a constitutional obligation to guarantee the public that such will happen as per requirements of Alert 4 Level. This is critical because the department with health is the only one with the expertise and authority to certify that the scanners are functional to eliminate any margin of error.
  2. The Departments should ensure that learning institutions have enough soap, disinfectants and sanitizers and that hygiene is part of the curriculum where it should be the first thing to be practiced before any daily learning activity can take place. That all classrooms and workshops are provided with sanitizers to be used at entry and exit. That all entrances are provided with sanitizers.
  3. The departments hire more staff to clean and sanitize the classrooms and workshops and offices as frequently as possible. These workers must have the prescribed PPEs and are protected from any form of abuse.
  4. Provision of desk screens to avoid learners touching each other or the desks or chairs. That these chairs, tables or desks be sanitized all the time.
  5. The provisions of high quality masks to all and make it mandatory that everyone wears them all the time inside and outside learning classrooms and workshops. The delivery of these is guaranteed before any reopening of learning institutions can be effected. The process of how they are handed over and how they are used should become part of hygiene lessons.
  6. The 1.2m to 1,5m social distancing inside the classrooms and workshops shall not be compromised. That the space for the teacher/lecturer to walk between rows of desks or chairs shall be in compliance with social distancing. Social distancing be observed and monitored during break times and feeding sessions. Strict recording of deviation shall be kept for purposes of tracing and tracking in the event of infection.
  7. The phase of staggering in compliance with Alert 4 Level is both for safety and curriculum requirements. Safety comes first and catchup programmes are dependent on safety and not the other way around.
  8. The sharing of readers and textbooks be prohibited as it may pose a health risk for the students. This is one of the exposures that COVID19 has brought to bare because it’s one of the pre-existing apartheid structures that the democratic government didn’t demolish.
  9. The reorganization of the school/college day and the timetables must be in compliance with safety precautions.Class sizes should be reduced to order to ensure social distancing. Whatever method is used must be to avoid transmission of the virus.
  10. The availability of psychosocial services is of paramount importance to help learning institutions to build resilience to defeat the fear brought by the virus. Anxiety can be a learning barrier and the psychosocial services must help our institutions to focus on staying alive and developing a culture of compassion, empathy and kindness. This is over and above what will be taught by the teachers/lecturers.
  11. The transportation of learners and students must comply with social distancing regulations and modes of transport should be sanitized. Daily registers of commuters and sanitizers be completed for monitoring purposes.
  12. The collaboration between education and social departments be mandatory in order to avoid overcrowding on public transport during grants pay days. The dropping and picking up of students must strictly comply with social distancing.

That pre-existing health conditions of students and workers be taken into account. That the education calendar be reviewed and this includes the scheme of work to focus on the essentials skills, knowledge and attitudes.

That safety must be a priority and continuous hygiene training takes place to become a school culture. In short, we are saying that all the necessary health precautions be taken seriously to avoid schools and colleges being new epicentres of the virus.

The screening of everyone in the school is a non-negotiable and psychosocial services are mandatory in order to support and help all of us to build resilience.

As we anticipate the address by the ministers, these are the conditions that must be complied with and they are exactly what the President mentioned for any COVID19 exit strategy.

SADTU has the right to be concerned about the safety of members and communities does not feel ashamed to have these concerns. We must express them openly so that together we can contain the spread of the virus.  We believe that this is the time to unite as the nation and defeat the virus.

It’s time we confront the inequalities in our institutions. There are students who were learning during lockdown because they had data to connect, they had gadgets and to them online was beneficial. To the majority of students, such important platforms such as distance learning, eLearning and online was impossible. We must then accept that the virus didn’t cause these inequalities but it exposed them. They should then be attended to as a matter of urgency. We need to do our best to avoid widening any existing learning gaps during the remote learning period.

We need to consider advises from experts when it comes to how best we can deal with special schools and combined schools because their situation is unique. We must work together to encourage academically at-risk students – such as those with learning disorders, or executive function disorders such as ADHD – to start attending targeted in-class learning. This could allow for some bridging instruction so that these students can make a strong start when the rest of their year group returns to in-class instruction.

Let us work together as a nation and support our President as he navigates this difficult and unprecedented terrain.

We want to conclude by stating that all students and workers must stay alive. Let’s practice social distancing, wash our hands with soap, sanitize all the time. Our team made submissions to the Department and we were disciplined not to distribute documents which were not finalized by the ministers.

We hope the ministers will have a moment to read our statement and consider all the minimum requirements we are putting on the table. We must not make a mistake because this virus is brutal and we should not undermine its viciousness and brutality. Only if we unite and stop competing, can we defeat this virus.

ISSUED BY: SADTU Secretariat

CONTACT:

General Secretary, Mugwena Maluleke

Deputy General Secretary, Nkosana Dolopi

Media Officer, Nomusa Cembi