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SADTU Demands Mass Testing of Learners and Teachers for COVID-19

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Nyakallo Tefu

The South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU) has demanded that government conduct screenings of over 10 million learners and teachers for COVID-19 before the schools re-open in South Africa. 

In an interview with Inside Education on Monday, SADTU general secretary, Mugwena Maluleke said the teachers union would meet top education officials this week to table its demands that teachers and learners be screened to prevent possible COVID-19 infections. 

“This will mean schools do not re-open until all the screenings of teachers and learners are complete. One way to conduct these mass screenings is by separating learners by grades and for them to come in on different days for screenings so they are not a danger to one another”, said Maluleke. 

SADTU’s call for mass screening of teachers and learners could mean a further delay of the re-opening of schools, which was expected soon after the lockdown comes to an end on April 16.

The screening of over 10 million learners and 400 000 teachers could prove difficult, given the shortage of screening equipments in the country. 

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced at the weekend that government has deployed 10 000 field workers to conduct screenings in townships and rural areas across the country as SA enters the critical phase of the lockdown.

Already there are fears that the outcome of the screening process could prompt government to extend the lockdown by two to four weeks as the number of infections are expected to soar. 

By Monday, the number of COVID-19 related infections stood at 1686 while the number of deaths increased to 12.

Inside Education reported last week that the department was contemplating postponing the matric supplementary exams scheduled for June to December, a move that could result in a logistical and financial nightmare for government.

High placed sources within the Department of Basic Education told Inside Education last week that a number of high-level teams met to find alternative solution should schools not open on April 17. 

“There are teams that are working behind closed doors. There’s a team that is looking at the curriculum. There is a team that is looking at examinations and within the examination there is a team that is focusing on marking. There is a team focusing on what will the implications for marking be. There is also a team that is looking at the implications for human resources”, said the source.

The 200 000-strong teacher union is also demanding that government consider reducing the teacher-to-learner ratio of 35.2 learners to one teacher in primary school and 27.7 learners to one teacher in secondary schools, must be halved to ensure social distancing among learners.

“Teachers must have enough space in their classrooms so they can walk at least 50-55 centimeter in between the children”, said Maluleke. 

Maluleke said the deadly pandemic would definitely change the way learners used to relate.

“Children love being around each other, playing, holding hands and hugging, now we need to make sure this doesn’t happen, for their safety”, said Maluleke. 

National Professional Teachers Organization of South Africa’s (NAPTOSA) executive director, Basil Manuel said most parents were concerned about sending their children back to school at the end of the 21-day lockdown, in the absence of concrete safety measures by the government. 

“The government has not communicated any measures that will be put in place should schools re-open after the lockdown that will ensure the safety of learners”, said Manuel.

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