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Progressive Organisations’ Formation: a new voice in education

Progressive Organisations’ Formation: a new voice in education
August 31, 2020
August 31, 2020 August 31, 2020

BRIAN ISAACS outlines the campaign of the Progressive Organisations’ Forum in the debate on the opening of schools in the Western Cape.

DUE to the COVID-19 ­pandemic, schools were closed on Wednesday, March 18, 2020, by the South African government. The government introduced stage 5 lockdown regulations on March 27, 2020.

Schools were then scheduled to be re-opened for grades 7 and 12 on Monday, June 1, 2020. However, due to pressure from teacher unions and parent bodies, schools re-opened on June 15, 2020, for grades 7 and 12.

In the Western Cape, schools were allowed to open on June 1, 2020. Government then proposed that the other grades return in stages. Confusion reigned in South Africa with private schools, ‘model C’ schools bringing students back earlier.

Some schools in poor communities tried to bring back students according to government regulations. Most of the schools of the poor struggled to get students back due to protests in their communities and parents saying that schools should only open once the virus curve has flattened.

The government then closed schools on Friday, July 24, 2020. The Grade 12 students returned on Monday, August 3, 2020. The Grade 7 students returned on Tuesday, August 11, 2020. All other students are expected to return by Monday, August 24, 2020.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the return/ non-return of students to school, a meeting of concerned organisations met and the Progressive Organisations’ Formation (POF) was founded on June 11, 2020.

The name (POF) was proposed by Malvern de Bruin, the general secretary of Cosatu-WC, and accepted by the organisations present, namely, Nupsaw Education Sector, Cosatu-WC and Sadtu-WC.

Bishop Lavis Action Community (BLAC), ANC-aligned organisations in the Western Cape [ANC, ANCWL, ANCYL, Congress of South African Students (Cosas), South African National Civic Organisation (Sanco), South African Students Congress (Sasco)], Movement Against Illegitimate Leaders (Mail), COVID-19 Coalition, Manenberg Parents Group, Athlone Teachers’ Group, Parents against the opening of schools and SACP(WC) subsequently joined.

There were two views on the closure of schools. One view, which was supported by Mail, Nupsaw ES, Cosatu-WC, ANC and aligned organisations, except Cosas WC, was that only grades 7 and 12 students be at school and all other grades remain at home until the curve flattens.

Should there be a spike in infections of grade 7 and 12 students then they should also stay at home. The second view, which was supported by Athlone Teachers’ Group, BLAC, Cosas-WC and COVID-19 Coalition was that all grades remain at home until the curve flattens.

Sadtu issued a statement on July 14, 2020, in which it resolved that all students stay at home until the curve flattens. Sadtu-WC then withdrew its stance that grades 7 and 12 students be at school.

The decisions to be made by POF relate to: debating the two views; writing of examinations for grades 1 to 11, and the question of students being promoted to the next year; Grade 12s writing examinations in November or early next year.

BLAC feels that there should be no examinations for grade 12; and pass/ fail and entrance to tertiary institutions should be based on grade 11 and grade 12 March examinations.

Recently, the POF formed a media committee which is responsible for promoting the organisation and informing the public about its views on the opening of schools, and exposing all the inequalities in education in South Africa.

Recently, the POF formed a media committee which is responsible for promoting the organisation and informing the public about its views on the opening of schools, and exposing all the inequalities in education in South Africa.

Although the POF was started to address the COVID-19 crisis and the return/ non-return of students to school, there is a view that the POF should develop into a more permanent structure to address the wider educational issues in South Africa.

We are, however, aware that there have always been attempts by the oppressed after a crisis to carry on the work of such an organisation after the crisis has abated.

In 1996, a very strong organisation, the Western Cape Parent Teacher Student Forum (WCPTSF) was formed to combat the rationalisation of teachers in South Africa.

The interest in the forum has waned over the years. It still exists but its membership is minimal. Maybe the time has arrived where the POF can be sustained due to the increasing inequalities in education in South Africa.

We encourage all teachers, non-teaching staff and parents to join POF and create a national body which can take the fight forward to equalise education in South Africa.

Although the governments of the Western Cape and national will never admit that POF played an important role in forcing the change of thinking about the virus and delayed the opening of schools to August 24, 2020, POF has won a decisive victory and we must be proud of galvanising support for delaying the opening of schools until the curve flattens.

There is still a bruising battle looming after August 24, 2020. POF will continue to protect our students.

Brian Isaacs is the interim ­secretary of POF.

 Featured image: On July 29, 2020, POF protested outside the Western Cape Education Department, in central Cape Town, demanding that the department cease the victimisation of teachers. (Photo ABDURAHMAN KHAN)

 This article was first published in the August 2020 print edition of Muslim Views.

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