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‘Prioritise us for vaccination’, say teacher unions

01 June 2021 - 16:24 By nomahlubi sonjica
Teacher unions call on the basic education department to prioritise teachers for the Covid-19 vaccine before primary school pupils go back to school on a full-time basis.
Teacher unions call on the basic education department to prioritise teachers for the Covid-19 vaccine before primary school pupils go back to school on a full-time basis.

With primary school pupils returning on a full-time basis from next month, teacher unions have asked to be prioritised for the Covid-19 vaccination.

They also want the basic education department to monitor the third wave of coronavirus infections before pushing ahead with the decision to fully reopen primary schools in six weeks’ time, even though they said the decision to return full time is the right one.

“The Educators Union of SA (Eusa) maintains its stance that the department should study the behaviour of the virus before making any decisions,” said spokesperson Kabelo Mahlobogwane.

“We continue to warn basic education to stop its obsession of going back to what was before Covid-19 and instead focus on building a new system that will be in line with 4IR [the Fourth Industrial Revolution] and the new normal.”

Basic education minister Angie Motshekga announced in a government gazette on Friday that all primary school pupils, and pupils at schools catering for those with special education needs, would have to attend school on a daily basis from July 26. This meant the current system of rotational classes would come to an end.

Mahlobogwane said the union had, since the announcement, published a survey in which it asked teachers to comment on the move by the department.

“They will guide the next step we will take,” he said.

The National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of SA’s (Naptosa) Basil Manuel said Motshekga and her senior leadership had consulted teacher unions on the reopening of schools.

“Consultation does not mean agreement, of course. We raised a number of issues. We agreed on a number of things,” he said.

He said unions and the department agreed there were currently “serious deficits” in pupils’ learning.

“Particularly grade 2s and 3s, where you’d find reading and writing have taken a huge knock. Children who are in grade 2 this year have not mastered grade 1 reading. That is because of not attending school regularly and because follow-up is not regular,” Manuel said.

He said unions acknowledged this could not continue as pupils would leave the schooling system without being able to read.

“There were science experts during the consultation and we spoke about if primary schoolchildren are easily infected by the coronavirus.

“They showed us they do not get infected easily and are not carriers of the virus. What we put on the table, however, is we reminded them about the third wave of infections. The solution lies in making rapid progress with vaccinations. We accepted the children should go back to school.

The mental health of our teachers is not what it should be
Basil Manuel, National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of SA

“While we agreed [for pupils to attend full time], it is a conditional agreement. It’s on condition that many things are addressed. It’s on condition that things do not change in the country,” Manuel said.

He said issues they needed the department to address included the appointment of more teachers and the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) at schools.

“We spoke about water supply and toilets that are not up to scratch. We raised concerns about PPEs. We also pointed out that the mental health of our teachers is not what it should be.”

Manuel said teacher unions would have to convince teachers it was necessary for primary schools to return to normal attendance.

“Some agree, others are fearful and worried.

” As far as vaccinations are concerned, we are going to apply pressure by writing letters to the right people and pointing out the position of teachers and encourage that teachers be higher on the list.”

He said unions have asked for  teachers with comorbidities to be placed higher on the list of those waiting to be vaccinated.

“We don’t want to muscle out anybody, but we see ourselves at a higher level than the police or army because we are dealing with larger groups of people at one time.

“The vaccination of teachers will serve more than one purpose.  By vaccinating teachers, it will encourage other people to join the queue because we are community leaders. The vaccination of teachers settles the mind of parents.”

SA Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) spokesperson Mugwena Maluleke said the vaccination of teachers should be a priority.

“The department of basic education and stakeholders must use June and part of July to monitor the development of the third wave and then use the science to inform the necessary strategies.

“The time must be used to provide all the necessary support, including psychosocial interventions, and then the union will on that basis express a firm view on the primary pupils.

“We acknowledge there is no perfect balance during a pandemic. The nation must support education and teachers to be vaccinated immediately without further delay,” he said.