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More pupils resume classes despite readiness warnings

The government went ahead with the reopening of schools to more grades yesterday despite being warned that more than half of surveyed teachers nationwide were not yet ready to teach.

The return to class of three more grades got off to a chaotic start with many schools in some provinces, including Gauteng and Limpopo, unable to open due to various reasons including not having water.

The latest state of readiness survey done on behalf of five teacher unions, including two of the biggest, the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) and National Professional Teachers' Organisation of SA (Naptosa), which was released last week, found that "more than 50% of teachers are not ready to start teaching on the basis of the new curriculum guidelines" that allow for social distancing.

The findings of the survey, conducted among 5,293 school principals nationwide, were shared with the department of basic education ahead of yesterday's return to school, according to Sadtu. The survey also raised as alarming the fact that only two provinces - the Northern Cape and Western Cape - had more than 80% of schools that were able to construct a timetable for when the next grades should return that allows for a 1.5m distance between pupils in classrooms.

"Thirty-three percent of schools have not been able to construct a timetable because of classroom or teacher availability constraints," the report said. It also suggested that only 43% of schools nationally that require water tanks had received them while in six provinces less than 40% of schools had received them.

In the Eastern Cape, 70% of the schools that need water tanks have not yet received them, the survey said.

"Only 75% of schools nationally have been provided with two masks per learner and staff member, and only 27% have enough masks for the return of the next grades," the report said.

The picture on the ground yesterday mirrored the sentiments of the survey, with several schools in Limpopo not ready to welcome pupils back due to poor infrastructure and lack of personal protective equipment (PPE). The Tshwane region was among the hardest hit in Gauteng with some pupils being turned away at the school gates.

Peter Tshabalala, chair of the school governing body at Phuthanang Primary School in Soshanguve, said the school got the wrong box of PPE.

"We sent a message to parents informing them that we had not yet received our PPEs so the children should not come to school. However, as soon as we receive our PPEs we will send messages to parents again. For now, we cannot risk the lives of children," Tshabalala said.

An official at Soshanguve High School said they also had to turn pupils away because they did not receive the protective equipment.

At Eqinisweni Secondary School outside Tembisa in Ekurhuleni, some grade 11 pupils were met by locked gates because the school had a positive case of Covid-19.

At Rama Secondary School in Bolobedu, Limpopo, there were classroom shortages with three of the six available classrooms occupied by grade 12s while almost 300 more pupils still needed space.

"We don't know where the other grades will be put in because there's no more classrooms. We will hear from our teachers what will be the arrangement," a grade 12 pupil said.

President of Saviour Association of School Governing Bodies, Caiphus Moshutla, said at Mohwibidi Primary in Moletji, parents were forced to shut down the school.

"The situation at the school is bad because there are no toilets and pupils are forced to relieve themselves in the bushes. Parents have been complaining to the department of education to provide mobile toilets but nothing was done," he said.

At Kgapane High School in Ga-Kgapane Village, grade 11 pupils were told to return home and preparations will be made for them today. The same happened at Leakhale Primary School in Madumeleng Village in Bolobedu.

Education expert Mary Metcalfe said what was happening was not unexpected.

"The variations in school functioning was to be expected under the complexity of Covid-19, so they will be at different stages... schools will be struggling with constructing a timetable and these variations are a function of Covid-19 and not necessarily lack of planning," Metcalfe said.

Sadtu spokesperson Nomusa Cembi said: "We feel that the department should take our input into consideration. We believe that we were not taken seriously and some of these challenges wouldn't be happening had we been listened to."

Basic education spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga had not responded to Sowetan's request for comment at the time of going to print.

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