South Africa: Union’s measures to ensure educators’ and students’ health and safety

published 22 April 2020 updated 27 April 2020

Confronted by the COVID-19 pandemic in South Africa, the South African Democratic Teachers' Union is doing its utmost to reach out to union members, ensure teachers’ and students’ safety from the virus, and improve access to remote teaching and learning.

In South Africa, schools, universities, technical and vocational education and training facilities, and early childhood education institutions were closed before the lockdown was decided by the government on 26 March.

Reaching out to members

Since then, the South African Democratic Teachers' Union (SADTU) has been actively engaging with its members. “We use our SMS system to send our members accurate information about the pandemic to counter misinformation and fake news,” explained Mugwena Maluleke, General Secretary of SADTU.

His trade union also uses its social media accounts to post daily news from the national health authorities to assist teachers. And it created a Communicators’ group on a popular messaging platform to send out surveys on education and virus-related issues.

A union team on COVID-19 also receives information on the pandemic and shares it with members via daily messages. “The information platform team is hard at work and uses available WhatsApp tools to stay in touch with branch and regional leaders,” Maluleke stresses.

Ongoing dialogue

SADTU is also in contact with the Education Minister, Angie Motshekga, advising her in terms of teachers’ needs and planning for the time when schools will reopen after the lockdown.

“We told the minister what we would need to see in place,” said Maluleke. “For example, we need to address overcrowded classes. Indeed, we need more classes or moveable classes that would then be able to take on more learners, so that we don't have 40 learners in a classroom.”

The education union is also looking at health and safety issues like the availability of masks, sanitisers, and water.

Maluleke is adamant that South Africa cannot risk a situation where “about 15 million of our students find themselves in schools with teachers who do not have adequate proper personal protective equipment”.

He added that, “on a daily basis”, the union shares the #StayAtHome and #WashHandsWithSoap hashtags on its social media platforms. “We provide teachers and students with accurate statistics to ensure that they stay safe.”

And union officials call, send messages to, and support members with COVID-19, the SADTU leader added. “We are reactivating the union support team that we used for HIV/AIDS for counselling online. We further partnered with an insurance company to set up a call centre for further support as part of SADTU affiliates’ wellness programme throughout the year, coupled with the union’s mobile clinic.”

Access to online teaching and learning

All available resources, as well as daily TV and radio lessons, are also posted on SADTU social media accounts daily for students who can access them. In addition, SADTU members are communicating with their students via a popular messaging platform.

“Data is expensive, but teachers improvise,” Maluleke acknowledged. However, he acknowledged that the union is “struggling to reach students in rural areas and informal settlements, due to poverty and poor infrastructure. Efforts are being made to reach them through local radio stations.”

He concluded: “South African teachers and students are at home, and we are doing everything we can as an organisation to ensure that they have access to teaching and learning. And, indeed, this is a time for compassion. This is a time for solidarity. We, therefore, stand with everybody around the globe, and do our best to efficiently disrupt the spread of this virus.”