Teachers speak out

Rofieka Benjamin, Samantha Hendrick and Mee-Chey Jacobs, teachers at Heathfield High School

We, as the young professionals of Heathfield High School would like to address the matter discussed by Western Cape MEC of Education, Debbie Schäfer in an interview with eNCA news on June 26, with regards to the reopening of schools and the phased-in approach of grades from July 6 and August 3.

As young educators entering this profession, we find MEC Schäfer’s response thoughtless. To say that our principals lack leadership and label them as irresponsible is disheartening, especially when they are doing their utmost to reach out to you during this pandemic.

We are not asking that schools be shut down for the duration of the year, we are merely asking that their opening be suspended at least until the peak of the virus has passed. We want MEC Schäfer to meet with our principals. If she believed that she was a leader in any sense of the word, she would meet with them and allow them to voice their concerns. We do not want to meet with her officials.

It is clear that Ms Schäfer, has no idea as to what is happening in our underprivileged schools and she never will, because she does not even care to make an effort.

Her concerns are with the privileged and therefore we as the underprivileged schools will never be heard. Privilege is when you think that something is not a problem, because it is not your problem.

Coming from a school that serves the underprivileged community, we find her lack of empathy toward our children heartless. These children are already subjected to a learning environment that is not mentally and emotionally conducive to learning. As teachers we do everything in our capacity to make their learning environment one which is conducive to education.

To say that we do not want to teach our learners is not factual as our purpose as educators is to teach and we already teach under difficult circumstances. With the Covid-19 pandemic, our onerous situation has become logistically impossible.

Previously in an “ideal learning environment” the ratio of teacher to learner was 1:35, however with the current conditions we have a ratio of 1:18, with fewer staff members due to their comorbidities.

We have already exceeded the 1:35 ratio. With Covid-19 we cannot logistically accommodate all registered learners.

In light of this, we need to highlight that there are many schools in the Western Cape that are in far worse predicaments than we are.

Our Minister of Education clearly said that no child will be left behind, but our underprivileged schools’ learners are already behind. Our picket demonstration (“Schools protest opening”, Southern Mail, July 1) was a cry for help, but the MEC laughed it off, basically mocking us.

Covid-19 kills. Our parents and grandparents have underlying illnesses.
Our learners will be carriers of this virus,
and many of them will lose parents.

They are not your guinea pigs. They are our future leaders.

As educators, we not only teach learners, but we protect them.

We are their parents away from home. Help us, help them.

Amid the reopening of schools, approximately 200 staff members in the education sector were infected with Covid-19.

This impacted negatively on the psychological state of the schooling communities in which they work.

With the phasing in of more grades, how many
more lives will you allow to be affected by this virus?

As schooling continues, those in the affluent schools easily continue along having the privilege of online learning whereas those in the impoverished areas fall more and more behind – yet all matriculants are expected to write the same national exam. Is this considered just? Is this inequality not a reality that has been expressly highlighted in these times?

After years of living in a democratic country we are serving our learners a form of “gutter education”. Was this not the reason why many learners lost their lives during the ‘76 uprising? Our education system is failing our principals, teachers, learners, parents, and communities.

It is not our principals who lack leadership, it’s our leaders who lack principle.

Kerry Mauchline, spokesperson for Debbie Schäfer, MEC of Education, responds: This is an internal staff matter, and we do not respond to internal staff matters in the media.