Teacher unions call for urgent school closure amid infection peak

a school classroom

It is the second time this year that the school calendar has been amended to accommodate changes brought on by the pandemic.

The South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) on Tuesday, made an urgent call for schools to close until the end of the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

This has also received the backing from Naptosa, the second largest teacher union in South Africa as well as the Public Service Association (PSA).

Sadtu secretary-general Mugwena Maluleke said the union’s decision was done based on “science evolution” and the fact that South Africa is now entering the peak of the pandemic and is facing a rapid rise in the number of infections due to the cold winter season.

He said the union had written to the government asking for a meeting to discuss the situation at schools, which affected learners and educators alike, as well as, potentially, the wider community.

The meeting which was due to be held today has since been cancelled and Sadtu is awaiting word on a new meeting date which they hope will be soonest.

Recent evidence that Covid-19 can also be transmitted through the air and not just via touch has contributed to the call to close schools, in order to protect lives, added the union.

“We, as an organisation, cannot continue to send messages of condolences to families.” 

He further argued that if schools closed now, it would give the department of education time to come up with viable solutions to allow proper and meaningful teaching to take place.

Sadtu said that the evidence from schools around the country was that there was no effective teaching and learning taking place due to the pandemic.

He called for the education department to invest in radio, television, and mobile teaching as a preferred method until the situation allowed for safe teaching within classrooms. 

This should include the provision of gadgets to all pupils and zero ratings of teaching and learning sites.

Maluleke described the current situation as dire and said it impacted on everyone in the community, not just at schools.

Sadtu, meanwhile, advised its members to carry on teaching and going to school until such time as there was a change in the situation.

Maluleke said the union expected to have a meeting with Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga before the end of the week.

In a statement on Tuesday evening, the executive director of Naptosa, Basil Manuel, said that the decision to also call for the closing of schools until after the Covid-19 peak was taken at its national standing committee meeting on Tuesday afternoon. 

“The was – in part – influenced by the deteriorating mental health of teachers.”

Naptosa noted that the World Health Organisation has advised that schools remain closed during the peak of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, Student360 spoke to parents to gauge how they are feeling with regards to sending their children back to school. This is what they had to say:

  •  “I know people say that we should wait till the pandemic is over but who knows when that will be? …one cannot keep schools and universities closed indefinitely.

“Of course there is a risk of spreading the virus and one needs to be extra careful. This risk is also increased if children stay with the elderly or those with comorbidities such as diabetes and that is the fear. It really is a difficult situation”.

  • “As a parent of a grade 6 child, I am extremely disappointed about the decisions taken to reopen schools. It’s a death trap out there and while adults are required to work from home where possible, our children are out in the firing line. I am fortunate in that my son’s school has given us the option of continuing with online classes which run concurrently with lessons being held in class but my heart bleeds for those who are expected back. I fully support Sadtu’s call to immediately close schools. Given the current situation, this would be best”

*This is a developing story