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Motshekga responds to criticism over reducing social distancing in schools

09 August 2021 - 10:00 By unathi nkanjeni
Basic education minister Angie Motshekga. File photo.
Basic education minister Angie Motshekga. File photo.
Image: GCIS

Basic education minister Angie Motshekga has responded to criticism regarding reducing social distancing in primary school from 1m to 0.5m.

Earlier this week, Motshekga announced that the sector was is in negotiations with relevant stakeholders to reduce the social distance between pupils from 1m to half a metre.

Motshekga said the proposed measure was to have as many pupils back at school as possible so they could catch up for the lost time.

However, the move was met with rejection and criticism from teachers’ unions.

Addressing media, Motshekga said the department was looking at different measures to have as many children at school as possible.

“I have an advisory which says they don't see any difficulty with us reducing the social distancing and it's something we have to engage with both the health [department], NCCC [national coronavirus command council] and unions,” said Motshekga.

“I can't negotiate for something which I don't have in hand,” she added.

Motshekga said she would meet with the unions which were against the measure and discuss a way forward.

In a joint statement, the unions — including the National Professional Teachers' Organisation of SA (Naptosa), National Teachers Union (Natu), Professional Educators Union (PEU), South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) and South African Teachers’ Union (SAOU) — rejected the 0.5m proposal.

“Despite warnings from the teacher unions that 1m social distancing is not possible when all primary school learners return to school, it is clear after two school days that compliance with the 1m social distancing is virtually impossible when the traditional timetable is followed,” said the unions.

The unions said they were not consulted about the new proposed reduced social distance.

“No scientific evidence thus far has been provided to the unions in connection with the acceptability of such a reduction,” they said.

“It is our contention that this matter must be the subject of genuine consultations with the organised teaching profession and that it must be supported by scientific evidence that the planned reduction will not lead to further infections among learners, educators and members of the broader community.”

They said they were in favour of having all pupils back to ensure the traditional timetables in schools are reintroduced. However, they said that cannot be at the expense of compliance with the required health and safety protocols.

“Our advice to schools in the interim is that where the 1m cannot be complied with, the schools should follow the deviation provisions as contained in the gazette and continue with rotational timetabling.

“This is done in the best interest of the child, educators and the community, and to ensure that schools do not become super-spreaders but rather the barriers against the transmission.”