Unions resist government call for teachers to stay at school until Friday

18 March 2020 - 16:08 By PREGA GOVENDER
Teachers have been asked to stay on at schools until Friday.
Teachers have been asked to stay on at schools until Friday.
Image: 123RF/Franck Boston

The department of basic education is insisting that teachers remain in school until Friday - despite calls by two of the country's teachers' unions for members to stay at home from Wednesday.

In a statement, the department said teachers should remain at work until Friday to give them time to draw up a "curriculum catch-up plan". 

"In order to achieve this objective, teachers would have to work as normal in terms of the approved school calendar," it said.

Department director-general Mathanzima Mweli said they would support provinces to ensure that the directive was implemented and that "a comprehensive recovery plan is put in place to mitigate against the 10 days that will be lost as a result of the early close of schools".

However, the country's largest teacher union, the South African Teachers Democratic Union (Sadtu), demanded that provincial education departments allow teachers to go on leave from Wednesday.

In a statement, Sadtu general secretary Mugwena Maluleke slammed the heads of provincial education departments for issuing circulars instructing teachers to remain at schools until Friday. He said President Cyril Ramaphosa had pronounced that schools must close on Wednesday.

"The confusion caused by the provincial circulars that teachers close on March 20 is unacceptable. These circulars are insensitive and inconsiderate."

He said Sadtu was not consulted on this critical issue, "which deals with the health of workers in those schools".

"The HODs [heads of departments] cannot overturn or vary the pronouncement by the president. The teachers and education support personnel in schools aren't immune to the virus."

He said the HODs expect the same teachers to conduct extra classes, "which they always do, but don't care about their health".

Maluleke demanded that the provincial education departments withdraw the circulars, "which undermine the president" and allow the schools to close at 11am on Wednesday.

The National Professional Teachers' Organisation of South Africa (Naptosa) also told members to stay away from tomorrow.

Gaylin Bowles, Naptosa's provincial chief executive for Gauteng, said the coronavirus was a public health issue, saying Naptosa was disappointed that the situation "has devolved into petty power-play".

"We call on our members to use their time to prepare for all eventualities as the virus spreads and threatens our normal routines," she said.

In a circular to schools, the Gauteng education department said teachers will remain at schools until Friday to "finalise all outstanding administrative work".

Members of schools' senior management teams have been requested to provide pupils and parents with guidelines of curriculum topics, content and activities to be undertaken at home to make up for lost teaching time.

Schools are expected to provide pupils material for reading and self-study, workbooks, textbooks and readers for use at home. 

According to the Gauteng circular, "This should include worksheets, tasks, projects and exercises."

The Western Cape education department also instructed teachers to remain at schools until Friday "to ensure that all administrative and other tasks are completed".

The province's superintendent-general of education, Brian Schreuder, said in a circular that the arrangements were confirmed during a teleconference of all education MECs and HODs with basic education minister Angie Motshekga on Monday morning.