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Unions wary of reopening schools

2020-08-31  Albertina Nakale

Unions wary of reopening schools
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Local teachers’ unions are not convinced it is safe to reopen schools on 7 September for face-to-face classes due to rising Covid-19 countrywide. The Namibia National Teachers’ Union (Nantu) said it is not in support of government’s decision, saying education is not an essential service, emphasising the need to protect lives first. 

“The union is in support for the current grades 10 to 12 to continue with face-to-face learning, while other grades continue with the distance mode. 
Our action to delay the reopening will help the delay of infections at schools, which eventually bring closer the vaccine day, if it has to be realised,” Nantu secretary general Loide Shaanika said yesterday. 
President Hage Geingob on Friday during the Covid-19 national response briefing announced that early childhood development, grades 0 to 9 are to re-open for face-to-face instruction from 7 September 2020 countrywide, including the restricted areas of Windhoek, Okahandja and Rehoboth. 

Geingob said grades 10, 11 and 12 will continue with face-to-face instruction countrywide, while vocational education training providers and universities may also operate across the country by offering contact lesson. 
Geingob stated face-to-face instruction may be conducted, where prescribed health and safety standards have been met. 

However, Nantu has given the government and ministry of education until this week to reconsider the decision to reopen schools for the lower grades, saying their members and support staff are not prepared to be subjected to such conditions that pose danger to their lives. 
“The capacity of our current physical infrastructures at school does not include compliance standards in line with World Health Organisation (WHO) – Covid-19 protocols. This is because most of our schools and or classrooms are overcrowded. The Namibian teacher-learner ratio in many schools stands at 1:55 or 1:90 in rural schools beyond the norm 1:40, we fail to understand how their conclusion overruled this truth if we have to follow the Covid-19 protocols,” Shaanika argued. 

Teachers Union of Namibia secretary general Mahongora Kavihuha said it will be in the best interest of everyone if the schools are closed for the remainder of the year for grades such as 10, 8 and lower primary. 
He feels these grades should be transferred automatically with the necessary curriculum rationalisation to cover the critical competencies that should have been met for progressing to the next grade in 2021. 

“The challenge that will be posed by learners repeating their current grades is that it will create a backlog for the incoming pre-school and grade 1 learners and either grade 10 and 8 will not have learners. We request grade 10s to be sent home and grade 9s be recalled to continue with their schooling,” he suggested. 
Nantu also said the ministry’s decision based on the research that suggested Covid-19 poses less risk to children does not take into consideration teachers and parents (as many adults have underlying conditions), who may be at risk if all grades come back to school at once. 
“The ministry could have considered learners to report back in blocks release rather than all grades at the same time to minimise overcrowding at schools and in classrooms. One would want to understand better why schools are divorced from those at bars, churches, funerals and weddings. These learners and teachers are friends and relatives to those gathering at bars and these come to schools after having been entangled with those at bars, weddings and funerals and a virus does not need more than ten people to spread it,” said Shaanika. 

TUN accused the education minister of misinforming the President on schools’ readiness to reopen based on research the ministry carried out. 
As a union, he promised they will continue to consult parents, teachers and student organisations on whether to boycott the planned reopening of schools on 7 September. 
“The pronouncement by the President is not a command; that is the position of government. So, if we feel the health of teachers and learners are not safe, we will invoke section 42 of the Labour Act,” he threatened.

2020-08-31  Albertina Nakale

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