Botswana: 'Close Down Schools'

27 January 2021

Teacher trade unions are heading for a showdown with the Ministry of Basic Education (MoBE) with the unions demanding that schools be temporarily closed because of the surge in COVID-19 cases in schools.

The reopening of public schools last week, at a time when local transmitted cases and deaths were escalating raised mixed reactions but government insisted that the situation in under control. Teacher trade unions Botswana Sectors of Educators Union (BOSETU) and Botswana Teachers Union (BTU) have always cast aspersions on the readiness level of schools amid surging cases locally.

BOSETU has earlier expressed deep fear over the danger that COVID-19 posed to Sefhare Junior Secondary School after one confirmed positive case was detected at the school.

In an interview on Friday,Secretary General Tobokani Rari said the upsurge in cases recently shows that the country is in the second wave of the pandemic, hence schools remain the most vulnerable to infections. Therefore, BOSETU has advised that schools be closed temporarily with immediate effect. Rari said such a proposal is supported by the realisation that many schools are not compliant with Covid19 precautionary requirements.

"We set up a team of own assessors on the ground. Some schools don't have basic water and sanitizers for teachers and students. The Director of Public Health has dropped the guard regarding school compliance. The second wave is hitting schools hard," Rari buttressed.

To that end, he revealed that the union is contemplating to slap minister of basic education with a proposal letter that schools be closed to curb the worsening situation in the schools. He added that schools are no longer closed for fumigation after the positive case of Covid-19 was identified in the school environment as it has been the case before hence fearing the worst is yet to come.

"The situation is very bad and look at what happened at Sefhare Junior School. There was a positive case confirmed there and business is usual as nothing has happened. Teachers and students are at risk hence we called on health authorities to close down school," said Rari.

BOSETU Secretary General opined that schools are currently congested due to the arrival of new standard 1 and form 1 classes with coming of form 4s soon likely to throw schools into a crisis.

Secretary General of BTU Agang Habana said their position is that schools should close too. He revealed that the union has written to Permanent Secretary of Basic Education, Bridget John, on Tuesday suggesting that schools be closed temporarily to allow the ministry and unions to strategize on the way forward. John had not responded to the BTU proposal on Friday.

According to Habana, BTU was not comfortable with schools re-opening on 12th January 2020. "The schools were opened at a the time when the virus was at its peak. The task force team and ministry assured us that the re-opening was guided by research. We observed the trends in the region and we saw South Africa and Namibia delaying to open due to the virus," said Habana, reitewrating the position adopted by his counterpart Rari and BOSETU. They concur that some schools lack basic needs such as water and sanitizers, therefore at higher risk to the new variant.

In addition, he said BTU on Thursday engaged Director of Public Service Management (DPSM), Goitseone Mosalakatane, to dialogue on ways teachers could be assisted in areas such as working from home to decongest school environments. BTU has rejected proposals put forward by DPSM, arguing that they do not cater for teachers. Going forward the teacher trade unions plan to engage MoBE.

Efforts to reach both minister of basic education Fidelis Molao and Permanent Secretary Bridget John proved futile as they did not answer calls to their cell phones byb the time of going to print.

Teachers succumb

Meanwhile, the worried Habana said the most worrying part is that some teachers recently succumbed to the virus. By December, he indicated that seven (7) of their members had died of coronavirus related complications.

Currently, one of the union regional organizers is in hospital battling the pandemic under dire health conditions. "Teachers are vulnerable. The virus has found its way into schools and it will leave a very devastating effects if schools are don't closely amid the surge at the moment. On daily basis, I receive calls countrywide and this week I received calls from our members in Nata, Sua Town, Tshesebe and Kgatleng reporting confirmed cases in schools. Situation is bad," Habana whined.

Rari and Habana cautioned government that if schools aren't closed schools will be wiped by the pandemic buttressing that there is a need not to take for granted compliance in schools.

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