Longer school day ‘not a major change’

The Basic Education Dept says inclusion of a second additional language will not mean longer hours.

Basic Education Dept says inclusion of a second additional language will not mean longer hours for teachers. Picture: Werner Beukes/SAPA

JOHANNESBURG - The Basic Education Department says it doesn't expect any opposition to its plans to lengthen the school day by up to an hour.

The extension is planned to accommodate the teaching of an African language as a second additional language.

The department has confirmed that schools will be expected to run for an hour longer every day from 2015, with a pilot programme planned for next year.

Departmental Deputy Director General Matanzima Mweli says no one has complained about the several voluntary pilot projects which have already commenced.

"[There are] a number of them in Limpopo, including Capricorn High School and a number of them in Gauteng, and the parents welcomed the additional hour for teaching and learning.

"If you speak to provinces they will tell you the number of schools who volunteered to be part of the pilot is amazing."

The longer school day will affect children in grades 4 to 12.

While the move to improve language education has been largely welcomed, questions around the ability of schools to accommodate the extra classes, if there will be enough qualified teachers to run them, and whether teaching unions would accept extra working hours have been asked.

Relations between the department and some teachers unions, particularly Sadtu, have been strained in recent months.

As recently as two weeks ago, Sadtu took the department to the Labour Court in Johannesburg, demanding the department keep to its agreement to give a tariff increase to teachers who marked the exam papers of Grade 12 pupils last year.

Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga and her department's Director-General Bobby Soobrayan have also been subject to fierce criticism from the union.

In May, Sadtu called for Motshekga and Soobrayan to step down, though it has eased its attack on the minister since then, while Soobrayan was recently placed on special leave after Sadtu accused him of improper payments to those who marked the matric papers.

But Mweli says, "To the best of my knowledge, the relationship between us and Sadtu is excellent."

He says Sadtu has been represented whenever the policy has been discussed and has made no objections.

They have simply insisted that the department be fully prepared for implementation in 2015, he says.

He says the union has no need to worry about teachers working any longer than they do.

"Teachers won't need to spend an extra hour. Teachers are expected to be at work for a minimum of seven hours, the policy would not require for an extra hour."

He said provincial departments have indicated that there is extra time available, and all that is required is that more of it is used for engagement with learners.

"Teachers are covered, there's no need to add an extra hour for them."

Mweli says the move will not involve a huge shift for schools and teachers.

"It might sound like a major change, but it's nothing of what has not happened before," he says.

He also said there would be enough teachers to handle the expanded curriculum, at least for the pilot rollout in 2014.