While the traditional five-day week for primary school pupils has been cautiously welcomed, calls have been made for teacher vaccination to be prioritised as a result.
Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga recently announced the full-time return of all Grade R to Grade seven pupils from July 26 – subject to the impact of the third wave.
The daily attendance also applies to pupils in Grades R to 12, with special education needs.
From May 17 to May 23, 35 school staff members and 47 pupils were reported as testing positive in the Western Cape.
MEC Debbie Schäfer said the department supports the 100% attendance and risk-adjusted strategy, as not all areas are affected equally at the same time, and teaching and learning time would be preserved.
“It should be noted that a number of our schools have already returned to 100% school attendance and are proceeding with normal timetables, where they are able to meet the requirements.
“Section 5A (9-12) deals specifically with situations where, despite its best efforts, a school is unable to implement full attendance. The head of department may give permission for a school to continue with rotating timetables, according to the directions,” said Schafer.
The National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of SA (Naptosa) executive director Basil Manuel said they have cautiously agreed with the department.
“We are fully aware of the losses suffered by our junior primary children. But scientists have also shared that primary school pupils are less susceptible to Covid-19 and less likely to transmit it. However, we raised concerns – including our teachers mental health and physical health.”
He said there were also concerns if the department would be able to sustain the issuing of personal protective equipment (PPE) in quantity.
“We will monitor this daily because schools are given an opportunity to prepare until July. This also gives room to ask for vaccines for teachers, as they will engage with a very large group of people. This would calm teachers and parents’ nerves. We would like to see teachers’ vaccinations being prioritised after the 60-year-olds,” said Manuel.
Progressive Principals’ Association spokesperson Anthea Adriaanse said the majority of teachers would prefer the traditional model, as the rotational model places them under extreme pressure, causing fatigue as well as burn out.
“Teachers are concerned about the crisis in education and the effect it is having, especially on pupils in marginalised communities. The resourced schools have basically resumed the traditional timetable for a while already because they have the finances to put measures in place, have the means to employ extra staff, as well as having the infrastructure of additional available rooms,” said Adriaanse.
She said many schools were not in a fortunate position and called for the Department of Basic Education (DBE) to be restructured to be a fair system for all pupils.
“The question that begs an answer is: why are teachers considered essential workers, yet the consideration of them being vaccinated has not been prioritised?”