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Sadtu calls for the closure of schools

The South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) has called for an immediate suspension of school reopening until after the Covid-19 peak arrives in the country. 

The union announced this at a virtual press briefing on Tuesday. 

However, the union’s secretary-general, Mugwena Maluleke, said it had not instructed its members to stop going to work. Instead, it will first hold an engagement with Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, at which it will table the resolution. 

The union said the resolution to close schools was taken during a special meeting of its national executive committee, which sat on Tuesday, to discuss the spike of the virus. 

Last month, grades seven and 12 resumed classes; early this month grades R, six and 11 also returned to school. 

Maluleke said one of the reasons the union was calling for schools to be suspended was because it believes there has not been effective teaching and learning since the first grades returned in June. He said this was because of schools closing when there are positive cases, as well as high levels of absenteeism from learners whose parents have decided to keep them at home. 

He said, for example, in the West Rand in Johannesburg last week there were 40 schools that had fewer than 4% of their usual learners present, with 38 of these schools then closing because of positive cases. 

Maluleke added that on Monday in the Northern Cape only four learners showed up at  a school, whereas 20 teachers had returned to work. 

“There is little education taking place. There is little effective teaching and learning taking place when you have fewer learners in the classroom and you have fewer teachers. There is little education taking place when you have got more absenteeism by the teachers due to comorbidities, isolation and quarantine, because of the [positive Covid-19] numbers that are there.”

‘First deal with the health issue’

Maluleke said that, during the peak of the virus, it is no time “to be fixing a [punctured] tyre when people are getting infected”. 

“We must first deal with the health issue: we must make sure that the infections are reduced, the infections are avoided; we can prevent the loss of life, and then we can go to the other issues that need to be addressed.”

At a press briefing on July 5, ahead of other grades opening on July 6, Motshekga said since schools opened last month fewer than 4% of schools have closed because of positive cases. She said this was better than having a system-wide closure of schools. 

She said a system-wide closure: “would come at an unacceptable cost of lost learning and school feeding for an entire generation of children, with a consequent worsening of social and economic inequalities for years to come”.

Motshekga added  that international and local evidence about losing school time — because of natural disasters, for example — leads to learners forgetting what they have previously learned. 

Maluleke said if Motshekga does not agree with what it is saying, the teachers union has agreed to come up with a “programme of action” that will be unveiled as soon as it does not receive buy-in from the minister. He said approaching the courts will be the last option the union would take, considering that going the legal route has not assisted others who have pursued it in an effort to stop the department of basic education from opening schools. 

“But we are the teachers and, therefore, we know what strong method we can use to ensure that indeed we save the lives of learners, teachers and the lives of the community,” he added.

Maluleke said the basic education sector cannot be party to the increase of infections in communities. 

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Bongekile Macupe
Bongekile Macupe is an education reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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