Temporary staff at schools hope for contract extension

The world's premier assessment for reading literacy found 81% of South Africa's Grade 4 learners cannot read for meaning. Archive photo by Lilita Gcwabe

Education assistants and school principals hope that the contract for education assistants gets extended as they are playing an important role in learning and teaching under Covid-19.

More than 19,000 education and school assistants will be without jobs in the Western Cape if the Department of Basic Education’s attempt to re-run the program fails.

These are the workers who are playing a vital role in the education sector during the devastating times of the Covid-19 at school level.

The national Department of Education said it is in talks with the treasury to finance the program further. Spokesperson for the department, Elijah Mhlanga, revealed that “there is a possibility for contract extension but the size, scope, start time and budget allocation is unknown at this stage”.

Thando Mtsekana (34) who is an education assistant at Uxolo High School in Khayelitsha explains that he was assisting three teachers with administrative duties, including data capturing, filing and lesson preparations. Mtsekana said an end to his contract is not good news for him. He said the small stipend he has received every month helped him cover monthly living expenses, but now that the contract is nearing an end, he has to hunt for another job which is something difficult to do considering the effects of the pandemic.

Initially, there were stipend payment delays which saw some assistants not being paid for the months of December and January. These delays are said to have been caused by the applicants’ errors.

Jamie Adonis is an education assistant at Matroos Holy Trinity R.C. Primary School in Elsies River. As a result of lockdown, she lost her job as an Educare teacher last year. She said the program has afforded her the opportunity to do what she loves doing once again.

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Principal at this school, Jerome Pillay, said the education assistants had to take care of the classes whose teachers with Covid-19 comorbidities had to work from home.

Parents picketing outside Bergville Primary in Bishop Lavis, Cape Town, calling for the boycott of the school’s re-opening. Archive photo by Mzi Velapi

Bonga Eleni (22) who works at Chuma Primary School in Khayelitsha told Elitsha that there had been delays in the payment of his monthly stipend, though the principal drew it from the school’s budget. He is worried that he is going to be unemployed again: “It will take months for me to get another job and it is not guaranteed that I will get it,” he said.

School principal, Vuyo Tekani, said that Covid-19 has increased the workload for teachers and the assistants played a pivotal role in ensuring that learning and teaching ran smoothly while adhering to Covid-19 protocols. “Teachers are now spared some administrative tasks and now have an amount of time to focus on core teaching aspects,” Tekani explains. The principal added that even though some assistants experienced delays in their payments, they were patient enough and carried on with their work.

The secretary for the Khayelitsha Education Forum, Haido Mteto said he has received positive feedback from the educators on the supportive work rendered by the education and school assistants. “It is very unfortunate that these assistants had to be employed for a short period of time. I wish government could find means to extend their employ.” He added that the assistants will be missed as they did administrative tasks and implemented much of the Covid-19 prevention protocols at schools.

Parents and activists closed a number of schools in Khayelitsha in June last year because they were “not safe”. Archive Photo by Mzi Velapi

Western Cape Department of Education spokesperson, Kerry Mauchline, said the contracts of the temporary staff ended in March but an unspent budget meant they could be renewed for an additional month. “The current Education Assistants and General Assistants are part of the Basic Education Employment Initiative (BEEI), funded by the national government with a fixed time period – however, due to some leftover funding, provinces were allowed to extend the contracts by a month to use up that funding. Without additional funding from the national government, we cannot extend the programme further,” Mauchline explained.

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In a statement, the Western Cape Department of Education said this initiative gave financial support to schools to help save School Governing Body (SGB) posts, which were under threat as parents struggled to pay school fees due to the economic downturn caused by the lockdown. “6,414 SGB posts were saved through this intervention which transferred a total of R22-million to 667 school,” the statement read.

The Department of Basic Education is working with provincial education departments to implement the Presidential Employment Stimulus Programme through the BEEI, which aimed to create temporary employment opportunities for 300,000 youth between the ages of 18 and 35 years old.

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