Whilst government has commended teachers for their commitment to work throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, labour unions have made fresh calls for schools to be closed temporarily as more teachers could lose their lives.
The latest call to close schools was made during the National Teachers’ Day celebrations in Gaborone on Friday.
Speaking on behalf of teacher trade unions, the Botswana Teachers Union president, Gotlamang Oitsile said they are concerned that the government has sent teachers back to school before the pandemic is brought under control.
Oitsile said as of Thursday, more than 45 teachers and heads of department had succumbed to COVID-19.
“We want teaching and learning to continue, but we are not prepared to needlessly trade teachers’ lives for our children’s education,” Oitsile said. “In our view, schools should be closed until the virus is brought under control, and adequate measures are taken to ensure the safety of educators.”
Oitsile added they are concerned that teachers have not been prioritised in the rollout for vaccine shots despite facing serious risks.
He said, in their view, teachers should be amongst the top priority groups for vaccination as a measure towards the safe opening of schools, and in recognition of their heightened exposure to infection.
“Re-opening should only occur when the safety of all is assured.” Oitsile said it is sad and demoralising that despite growing evidence, the government is yet to recognise COVID-19 as the grave workplace hazard it is. He called on the government to accelerate digitisation in education and a well-thought-out shift to remote teaching and learning, not only to mitigate the risks of infection for teachers and learners alike but also to position the nation’s education system on a path to closing the gap on the leaders. As it is, he said, COVID-19 is also exacerbating pre-existing disparities in education, as teachers are afraid and stressed.
President Mokgweetsi Masisi commended teachers for displaying bravery at work even under the current conditions. He said, while many countries lost out on the academic year due to the pandemic, Botswana has not, thanks to the commitment of the teachers.
He said the government has decided to prioritise vaccination of teachers as they are considered frontliners. He added his government will continue to review the conditions of service and welfare of teachers.
The Teachers’ Day was celebrated under the theme, ‘The Teacher Key to Education Health and Prosperity in the New Normal’.