What about the elephant in the room?

The question of whether it is a fair expectation from teachers to continue to be paid while not working has thus far been side-stepped by unions, the writer says.
The question of whether it is a fair expectation from teachers to continue to be paid while not working has thus far been side-stepped by unions, the writer says.
Image: Cebisile Mbonani

Apart from the prevalence of Covid-19 itself, it is the uncertainty about the rest of the schooling year that has many parents in SA anxious.

The latest demands by teacher unions for schools to be closed until after the virus peak has reopened the contentious debate about how the government should protect teachers and pupils from rising infections.

The government has consistently maintained that its efforts to get schools equipped against Covid-19 had largely been sufficient.

However the experiences of many schools on the ground, especially those in poorer areas, tell a different story.

This newspaper has, since schools reopened, published several stories where some battled to get the most basic equipment needed to protect staff and pupils against the virus.

Therefore, the call by teacher unions to close schools is not without merit. However, it needs to be considered in the context of many other variables, one of which being what to do practically with the rest of the academic year.

Unions have suggested that teachers ought to be equipped with the necessary technological resources to be able to work from home.

Indeed our country must step up its technological advancement, especially with regards to education.

However we must also ask whether a government which battles to deliver basic necessities like water to certain schools, can realistically ensure that all its teachers and pupils are equipped with the technological infrastructure needed to do their work, and in the speed required to finish this year's curriculum.

If not, we must then accept that regardless of its merits, the proposal to close schools may, realistically mean that many teachers sit at home doing nothing.

It is in this context therefore that many citizens, including basic education minister Angie Motshekga, ask whether it is a fair expectation from teachers to continue to be paid while not working.

It is a question that unions have thus far side stepped.

But in the context of our strained public purse, it is a question they should be honestly engaged on.

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