The South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) has made a clarion call to their members and learners to refrain from going to school as a way of safeguarding themselves against Covid-19.
However, this call flies in the face of a decision by the national Department of Basic Education which sought to reopen schools in phases starting with the Grade 12’s and Grade 5s, the only school grades attending classes for about a month now.
However following increasing infections of learners and the number of teachers that had succumbed to the virus, Sadtu decided to call for the closure of schools in all provinces across the country.
Sadtu’s secretariat said in a press communiqué the union had noted the rate of community transmissions which are impacting on schooling.
“The frontline workers who are at the coalface of the pandemic have been infected and affected. We remember all the workers, children and families whose members have succumbed to the virus. We grieve with all our members and every family in our country. We are in a crisis and every life matters,” the union said.
It wants schools closed until after the peak of Covid-19, reiterating its opposition to the decision by the education department to reopen schools, citing the safety of teachers, learners, and support personnel.
“Above all, we raised concerns about the readiness of the provincial departments with regards to the availability of health and safety essentials that had to be put in place before the opening of institutions,” the union indicated.
“All evidence on the ground is that there is no effective teaching and learning taking place under the current conditions. The pandemic has led to a pandemonium in the education sector and this can be linked to the lacklustre leadership that we have been experiencing from the Department of Basic Education at various levels.”
Sadtu explained its calls for shutting down of schools are motivated by the fact the virus is reaching its peak in the country and this is worsened by the winter season.
It added when the debate regarding reopening schools started, it was guided by the science that was explicit that children were not susceptible to infections.
“Studies done presented a picture where indeed learners in Australia and Italy were not infecting each other. The South African situation has provided another side of the virus where many learners have been infected and some have lost their lives,” it said.
The union pointed out it had requested a meeting with basic education minister Angie Motshekga, after it was proven that the virus can be airborne.
It further cautioned against the use of education as a platform to gain cheap political points, urging authorities to get their ears on the ground and respond to the loud calls from communities to suspend classes during the peak of Covid-19.
Sadtu said upon receiving all provincial reports about the dire state of the system on the ground, the union called on the department to suspend all schooling activities with immediate effect until the peak of the pandemic has rescinded.
Meanwhile the Congress of South African Students and the ANC Youth League in the Free State have thrown their weight behind Sadtu’s call.
Cosas national organiser Luxolo Gqamana said learners were in full support of their educators in making this call.
“As we lament the sad state of education in our country, we tend to forget about politicians who have dedicated their time in office to ensure that a life of an African child doesn’t go to waste. For the past few weeks we have been informed on how widely Covid-19 is infecting scholars throughout South Africa but our cries has fallen on deaf ears,” noted Gqamana.
He reiterated that Covid-19 has shown the gap of inequality between the rich and poor, adding that the Department of Basic Education is not innocent in this matter as students were allegedly being manipulated.
“It was not a coincidence that the minister of Basic Education abandoned the view of Cosas on the state of readiness to open schools. We welcome the call by the South African Democratic Teachers Union to suspend schooling immediately.”
Gqamana called on the testing of all Grade 7s and Grade 12s at educational campsites within the borders of their provinces to complete their academic year.
Cosas wants to save the academic year but not at the direct expense of the lives of learners, he stressed.
ANC Free State youth league spokesman Sello Pietersen said the league supports the ‘progressive’ calls by Sadtu and Cosas for schools to close until the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic is over.
“These calls are supported by scientific evidence that the winter period will lead to a peak period of the pandemic. Furthermore, evidence on the ground clearly points to the unacceptable escalation of infections amongst our learners and teachers alike,” said Pietersen.
He noted the league is now more worried since new evidence that the virus can be airborne has come to the fore.
“Scientists around the world, led by the World Health Organisation, and the National Institute for Communicable Diseases have confirmed that due to the unknown nature of the Covid-19, they are studying its behaviour as it goes. This raises even a much more serious concern. It presents a picture of a nation that seeks to experiment on its future, which is the young people. The ANCYL in the Free therefore rejects this in totality.”
Pietersen urged all parents in the Free State not to release their children to school in accordance with calls by Sadtu and Cosas until the pandemic is under control.
“It is our view that older people must lead by example. Learners should only go to school if it safe to do so and only when everyone has stopped using remote methods like ‘Zoom’ and physically go to work, otherwise learners must remain at home and comply with all the lockdown regulations,” he added.