No to budget cuts in education sector – SADTU

Union says there should be more investment in quality public education to reach developmental goals as a country

SADTU statement on the opening of schools to learners marking the start of the 2021 academic year

14 February 2021

The South African Democratic Teachers’Union(SADTU) - the biggest union in the education and public service sectors, welcomes all learners back to school on Monday to begin the 2021 academic year.

Unlike previous academic years which began in January, the 2021 year has begun in February in order to curb the spread of the COVID 19 virus.

The steady decline in the rate of COVID 19 community infections in the past few weeks has given SADTU confidence that schools may be ready to open their doors to learners to a certain extent. Further, the latest school readiness survey completed by school principals from all five teacher unions to ascertain readiness levels for schools to open has shown improved levels as compared to the first survey that was done in Jauary.

The survey results indicate that 66% of principals who particpated said they were confident that their schools were ready to open. The figure is higher than the one recordered in the first survey done in January which indicated 37% overall readiness to open schools. Although we ideally would have prefered to see 100% readiness, these figure provide a reason to be optimistic that lessons have been learned by particularly the DBE during the unprecedented 2020 academic year.

We commend the School Management Teams, educators and education support personnel who have been working hard in the past few weeks to ensure that schools receive the necessary resources to gurantee the safety of everyone within the schooling environment.

In the same vein, it is quite disturbing to learn from the survey that in the largely rural provinces of KwaZulu Natal, Limpopo and Mpumalanga, the levels of confidence were below 50%. KwaZulu Natal, the province that has 25% of schools nationally, only 31% of principals said they were confident that schools could to re-open safely. KwaZulu Natal has the highest number of teachers who are infected with COVID 19. The pandemic has once again widened the gap which exists in education. The previously poorly resourced provinces continue to suffer from the legacy of the past. More needs to be done to bring equality and equity in education.

To this end, SADTU will intensify its call for a truly equitable school funding formula that will ensure that the dep seated inequalities of the past are adressed. Every child deserves to learn in an ideal school - a school that will ensure that they reach their fullest potential; just like every education worker deserves to work in a safe and conducive environment.

Given the lessons learned from the 2020 academic year, we want to urge the DBE to move with speed in implementing a blended learning approach as an intergral part of our system. That is a comprehensive and practical strategy that will include digital communication resources for learners and educators and increased utilisation of mass communication platforms and community radio stations for educational purposes.

Such a strategy would also require a firm commitment towards the rebuilding of our economy post and during the COVID era from big indusrty players like the tele-communications and data companies. This would ensure that we do not endure the painful experience again as a country of seeing those in resourced schools and in communities with better socio-economic conditions continue with their teaching and learning whilst the poor and the majority were being left behind.

We insist that as a country, we should not and cannot go back into the crisis before the COVID crisis, it is for this reason that we also call on the Minister as she prepares her budget vote to make provisions to sustain the Basic Education Employment Initiative beyond the initially indicated limited duration. It is our view that this is a necessary intervention that should be a permanent feature of our education system just like in many other developing countries.

The availability of the teaching assistants and additional general workers allows educators to focus on the delivery of the curriculum delivery instead of being overloaded with administrative duties. The teaching assistants also play a critical role in instances where learners from severely disdvantaged families require additional monitoring and support.

It should be made clear however, that teaching assistants are not replacement teachers as that would be tantamount to gross exploitation and that their conditions of service, just like those of Gr R practitioners, should be prioritised.

SADTU will thus stand firm against any intention to effect any form of budget cuts in the education sector. We strongly believe that there should be more investment in quality public education for our developmetal goals as a country to be reached.

As schools do their best to ensure COVID 19 supplies are provided, the survey has indicated that only 26% of schools would have face masks for all the learners. We therefore urge parents to ensure learners have masks when they come to school as we do not believe that every learner will be provided with one when they arrive at school on Monday.

Critically and more urgently in this regard, we are calling on the Treasury to provide an education stimulus package targeting the provinces and schools that are struggling to maintain COVID compliance protocols from their SGB budgets. It is common cause that the economy experienced a sharp down turn that saw even parents lose their ability to suplement their respective school budgets through school fees in the fee-paying public and private schools. In other instances, schools diverted their norms and standards budgets towards COVID compliance material. It is our strong view that this will have immediate adverse results.

The first day may be a bitter sweet one for both the learners and teachers as some teachers would not be ever returning to school because they have lost their lives due to the virus. We therefore call on Government to provide psychosocial services schools to assist the schooling community to mental and emotional resilience.

In an attempt to assist members to cope with the grim situation in schools, more especially with their motional and mental well-being, SADTU has partnered with insurance company Metropolitan to provide support to members. Members can dial a toll-free number 0800 222 241 to receive support with stress management, trauma and work-related challanges.

SADTU expects to see effective learning and teaching taking place on the first day of school. However, we are aware of instances of late registrations and admissions in provinces such as the Western Cape and Gauteng which may delay effective learning and teaching on the first day. We appeal to parent to register their children on time.

As we start the 2021 academic year, SADTU calls on all South Africans to support education by protecting and supporting schools through the Unions #I am a School Fan” campaign. The campaign seeks to mobilise all stakeholders in communities to defend and protect schools so that they become safe for teachers, learners and education support personnel.

Issued by Nomusa Cembi, Media Officer, SADTU, 14 February 2021