By Khuthala Nandipha
Children and teachers are safer in schools than where they are now, according to MEC for Education in the Eastern Cape, Fundile Gade during a school readiness media briefing in East London on Friday.
“We are a caring government. If we were careless, we would not have put all the measures into place that we have. Our attitude is that we must be able to analyse closely where children are most vulnerable. They are at risk where they are, and safer in government institutions because we have plans for all sectors, but we do not have plans to protect people that are loitering on the streets,” said Gade.
Only half of the schools in the Buffalo City Metro will re-open for the second term on Monday, June 1st while the OR Tambo coastal will resume with only 4% of their schools; the rest will resume later in the week.
The department’s Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) delivery plans have been halted by a conflict between outsourced small businesses to deliver PPEs and companies that have not been granted contracts. It is said that the companies have been blocking trucks that are meant to do deliveries in various parts of the province. 13 000 Grades 12 and 7 learners are expected to be in school by the end of the week when all PPEs are expected to have been delivered.
“I can assure you that we are using only Eastern Cape companies for PPEs and the standard protocols of procurement have been applied. Up to 15 000 suppliers across the province have shown interest in working with the department. The first cohort of 36 suppliers was for the delivery of PPE and more than 200 suppliers have been given their appointment letters for the learner cohort of PPE delivery. PPEs are being delivered to schools as I speak. Our package of PPE includes sanitisers, handwashing soaps, cloth masks, aprons, cleaning materials, among others,” said Gade.
The South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU) in the Eastern Cape said they have tried to push for prioritisation of the safety of workers under the given difficult and trying conditions.
“Let us defeat lip service commitments or plans that are never executed. The employer must be considerate of those first steps as dictated by Covid-19 regulations at level four of lockdown. We have received confirmation of clear training/orientation programmes, guarantee on availability of psychosocial support for all, delivery of water tanks and water, clear plans for sanitation issues, clear plan on smooth running of scholar transport, social distancing and staffing/personnel matters,” said Chris Mdingi, Provincial Secretary for SADTU.
The Department, in partnership with the Health Department will link up schools with the nearest health facilities. Learner temperatures will be taken daily and any learners that present with consistently high temperatures or even once off high temperatures will be placed in a holding room while awaiting collection for referral.
“The classrooms that the learner interacted with will be decontaminated and the learners and teachers who may have interacted with the person under investigation will be tested. Teaching and learning will resume and those with negative results will be allowed back into the school. Those who are positive will be placed in self-isolation at home with curriculum support remotely,” detailed the MEC.
Infrastructure remains a challenge for the province with 931 identified schools that have no water supply. They will be given one filled tank for use and 480 of these tanks are expected to arrive at the schools any day now. 756 schools have been prioritised.
According to Gade, a local supplier has been appointed to provide and deliver the water tanks to all schools. He assured that local business people with tankers, will be appointed by the local supplier to fill the tanks on completion of installations.
“Where there are schools that do not meet our standards for learners to return – these will be deemed level 5 schools and their children be taken to other neighbouring schools. Scholar transport will be provided for those children and routes are being provided for the Department of Transport,” detailed MEC Gade.
Parents are urged to ensure that scholar transport vehicles adhere to the rules in that they send their children with masks into the bus and that the vehicle only carries 70% of its occupancy.
20 000 unemployed youth from local communities will be given a 3-month contract to work as support teams to clean schools and screen learners and will receive a R2 100 monthly stipend. There are engagements on the possibilities of renewable contracts. Also, 900 interns will be hired for administrative, hygiene, screening and monitoring support.
Over 6000 trained unemployed teachers are on standby to fill in any gaps as over 60 pregnant teachers and those with underlying conditions have to take a decision on whether they will return or continue working despite their vulnerability.
He added that the decision to open has been properly consulted with stakeholders such as unions, SGBs, DEFs, advisory council, legislative bodies of government, academics, traditional leaders and other stakeholders.
“All possible measures have been taken into consideration to safeguard and protect our learners against the Covid 19 virus. All the tabled plans during the consultation will be subject to continuous evaluation for improvements”.
In a joint statement, teacher unions said that often information fed by officials to Provincial Departments and from Provincial Departments to the Minister do not reflect the actual, ground level situation.
“Vague and general statements like “The first consignments have arrived in schools and more deliveries will be made as time progresses”; “All indications are that the preconditions for the reopening of schools will be met…” might sounds positive, but in fact says very little. The plan to assure the safety of the workers, learners and parents is shrouded by this vagueness,” read the statement.
In a survey completed by principals, 79% said that they have not received regulations on how to deal with health and safety issues, 60% report that their circuit manager has not yet been in touch with them and 92% of respondents report that offices have not yet been cleaned and sanitised.