One On One

Q & A – Bricks Moloi

The South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) has called for an immediate suspension of school reopening until after the Covid-19 peak in the country. The union’s provincial secretary-general, Bricks Moloi, explains to the Free State Weekly’s Thapelo Molebatsi that the decision behind the call is not to disrupt but preserve the lives of learners, educators, and staff members.

Why is the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) calling for the immediate closure of schools?

We are currently at or approaching the peak of the coronavirus and that has led to a high level of absenteeism from both learners and teachers due to increased numbers of those testing positive. The ‘yoyo/vula-vala’ happening due to closure of schools in case of teachers, support staff and learners testing positive for the coronavirus is affecting schooling negatively.

What informed the decision taken by the national executive committee (NEC) that schools be closed?

The NEC is calling for the closure of schools after a  plethora of issues were raised such as; the risks of lives of teachers, learners and support staff during the peak of the virus, lack of health and safety essentials in schools, as well as the high rate of community transmissions that are impacting on schooling. The NEC held a strong view that due to the anxiety and panic amongst teachers and learning in schools, there hasn’t been any effective teaching and learning since the return to schools of some grades in June.

Previously, the government had rejected this proposal stating that the country could not afford to abandon the school calendar, as many had proposed/ or suggested. By suggesting schools be closed, does this by any chance suggest the same or it’s a different call backed by different reasons?

We are not calling for abandoning the calendar year, but for suspension of schools as we are experiencing an exponential rise in the infection rate in our communities and now at our schools. We are approaching the peak but also enduring our cold winter which is also known as the influenza season. Let the peak and winter pass and schools will reopen and we will prepare our learners for their final year assessments.

Following the pronouncement, has Sadtu met/or written to the Minister of Education, Minister Angie Motshega? If so what has been the response.

Prior to the NEC meeting, the union had written to the minister requesting an urgent meeting to deal with amongst others, the spikes in infections in institutions of learning. The minister didn’t respond to the request and subsequently, the NEC was convened. The union has posted the pronouncement by the NEC requesting an urgent meeting with the minister. We can confirm that the minister has met with all unions where she was briefed about the call to close schools until after the peak of the pandemic.

At the provincial level, has the same been done with regard to meeting MEC for Education, Tate Makgoe, who’s also been vocal about the continuation of the school calendar?

We haven’t formally met with the MEC. Our continuous interaction with the HOD for Education has been consistent with the views of the MEC that consideration should be on saving the Grade 12 learners as they are at the exit point of their schooling. To my knowledge, the MEC has not advocated for the return of other grades than grade 12.

If the minister does not agree, is there any programme of action that will follow and what exactly will it entail?

We are still engaging the minister at national level and there is no deadlock as yet. We want to exhaust the platforms created to engage and resolve the issue. The outcome of our engagements will determine the course of action to be pursued. There is no decision nor discussion on an action for now. We are however aware of possible delaying tactics and buying of time. These discussions can’t be forever, we should reach a point of conclusion.

One of the talking points regarding the 2020 calendar year has been the Grade 12 calendar. With the proposal for schools to shut down, what is Sadtu’s position regarding this particular grade?

One option is not to close for Grade 12 learners but look at different models to assist them, including online learning and perhaps well-organised and safe camps, consider delaying their final examinations towards the end of the year, and looking at a possibility of writing in January or February 2021. We could also start a discussion with DHET and HEIs on the possibility of delaying registration for first-year students in 2021.

Prior to the announcement, the NEC alluded to the dire state of the system from all provinces. What is the state of schools in the province?

Truth be told, our system was always under pressure even before Covid-19. Covid-19 is exposing the glaring historical, systemic, and infrastructural challenges. Even though our provincial department of education is attending to the Standard Operating Procedures, the system needs to address the fundamental challenges and avoid peppering over the cracks. We always thought we could use this time to fix the system. There was and there is still no need to rush.

Prior to the Minister of Basic Education announcing that schools be opened under Alert Level 4, did Sadtu, together with other teacher unions, raise concerns reading the state of readiness at the provincial level?

We had our serious reservations about the reopening of schools. We maintain even up to now that the system is still not ready to receive learners in a conducive environment. We cautioned the department then and to some extent, we are vindicated now.

According to Sadtu, how long will the shutting down of schools take, and does it truly believe this is the only way that the high rate of Covid-19 could be reduced through the protection of the vulnerable – kids in this case?

Our suggestion is the suspension of schools for at least a month. The suspension of schools will afford the department of education with the opportunity to fix the system and try to create a conducive environment, safe of fear, anxiety, and threats. Also to attend to the question of safety and hygiene, focus on the provision of water, teachers to replace those with underlying conditions, and fix toilets.

The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) supports children going back to school during the Covid-19 pandemic based on Unicef’s position that pupils return to schools as soon as possible because “evidence points to harm being done to children by not being in school. What is your take on the matter?

We are exposed to this invisible enemy while there is no perfect, wisdom, and science on many of the challenges we are facing on a daily basis. Scientists differ on many questions, just as institutions such as UNICEF and WHO. WHO for instance caution us on reopening schools while we are struggling to manage transmission in our communities. We all want our children to be at schools but our priority is their safety. Teaching and learning can only take place at an institution free of anxiety, fear, or any stress. The mind of a child can’t process ideas in an insecure environment.