By Naadiya Adams – @Miss_Naadiya
With schools set to open in just two weeks and the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus ravaging through households, concern for the safety of children in schools and the potential for spreading the virus has never been higher.
The concern however is not only for children but for educators as well. The outbreak has already killed 2000 teachers and assistant teachers, and many fear for their lives.
Executive Director of the National Professional Teachers Organization Basil Manuel says schools are again taking a phased in approach to bringing kids back to school. He says due to the over crowdedness in schools, a 50% capacity is what they are currently looking at.
“Because of the sheer over crowding in our schools and the close proximity of learners one to another, as well as the proximity to teachers, we can’t have a greater number than the 50% model that we have used.”
While schools are expected to open on January 27th, Manuel says President Ramaphosa’s speech on Monday evening has thrown a spanner in the works indicating that the re-opening of schools will be discussed soon, emphasizing that there are only two weeks left.
Manuel also says the unions want to ensure schools are ready to receive learners and teachers. They will be conducting surveys with various school principals to find out the plan in place to receive PPE ahead of the re-opening. He also mentioned that there is a clear expectation for government to provide the necessary safety materials required for schools to operate safely.
“Every Provincial department, and the national department knows and if we are still going to be reminding provincial departments of their responsibility, its tantamount to their election of duty. And I want to make that very clear, we are really not interested in reminding them what they know!”
Being in the grip of a second wave, according to Manuel many teachers are fearful to return to work and says unions are urgently discussing a collective agreement – where teachers have the option to stay at home if they so wish – that was in effect before the country moved to level 2 last year.
Manuel also mentioned that they fully support frontline workers receiving vaccinations 1st, but also said that he can’t see an event where teachers are far down the line to receive the vaccine as they serve an integral role as the backbone of the education system and the economy at large.
“We serve two purposes, number one we educate and number two we are caregivers. And by the role of caregivers, we actually release parents to o into the communities and into the economy of the country and earn a living. Without that they have an additional problem, so we can’t afford as a country not to have our schools fully functional.”
While the second wave and subsequent variant has still not seemed to severely affect young kids and primary school kids, Manuel admits it has shown some prevalence in teens which he says is a major concern. However, with the loss of a million children from schools in the past year to dropouts, he is pleading with parents to send kids to school.
“Please send your children to school, we will try everything in our capabilities to ensure that every single child is kept safe, but it is not a plan to keep your child at home unless you have a plan at home, such as homeschooling.”
South Africa has an estimated 13.5 million kids in public schools, and this past year saw a million drop outs in a country where unemployment is rife, the value of education cannot be quantified.
Listen to the full interview here: