THE Minister of Primary and Secondary Education Cain Mathema has advised that “schools will be opened three to four weeks from now”, adding that to prepare for the resumption of studies, Government is set to hire 6 000 teachers as part of a comprehensive plan for the safe and smooth opening of schools in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.
This will bring the number of teachers to 140 000. in a country that currently has about 4,5 million learners.
The decision to re-open schools, which is being resisted by nearly all teachers’ unions who cite increasing number of Covid-19 cases since the beginning of winter, comes hard on the heels of universities whose doors are set to be reopened from June 1.
“The 2020 exam class will resume classes first, followed by 2021 exam classes two or three weeks later, with the rest of the groups following in that manner,” said Mathema
Phase Three will consist of Grades Three, Four, Five and Form Ones and Twos.
Phase Four consists of Grades Two and One while Phase Five sees the resumption of ECD classes, which are set to open last.
Before resumption of the new school term, teachers will be screened and tested to ensure learners’ safety. They will also receive training on Covid-19.
As part of the new measures, schools will get thermometers for screening, while learners will be allocated Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as face masks, hand sanitisers and additional furniture, including desks and chairs, needed to enforce social distancing.
Classrooms will be divided into two to ensure social distancing, with Government setting up temporary classrooms.
The measures are part of the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education’s Covid-19 Education Response Plan.
Mathema says that he had met with teacher unions and presented the plan to them.
“We are going to have a phased approach of opening schools like President Mnangagwa announced,” he said.
“Schools will be opened three to four weeks from now but we want to make sure that our schools are safe to reopen, so we have put in a lot measures to ensure that schools are safe.”
Although the preparations are quite onerous, Government will ensure there will not be any cutting of corners.
“First, we want to make sure that the teachers undergo testing and screening, and Government is going to take care of that. We will be effecting social distancing at schools. For instance, a classroom will be divided into two, with some classes being conducted in temporary buildings,” he said.
“This also means we will be recruiting more teachers. So far, we have been given the greenlight to take 6 000 teachers. Classes will resume two to three weeks apart.”
But teachers’ unions a few days ago week expressed unwillingness to return to work under the current conditions, saying they believe that safety measures might not be ready in time.
This was after Secretary for Primary and Secondary Education Mrs Thumisang Thabela on Wednesday told Parliament that the mid-year Zimsec examinations would be written between June 29 and July 22.
Zimbabwe Teachers Association (ZIMTA) says the schools must not be re-opened for now because the number of Covid-19 cases is still rising, warning that if Government proceeds with plans to re-open schools, teachers are not going to go to work and risk the lives of children and theirs as well.
ZIMTA chief executive officer Sifiso Ndlovu said holding the June examinations must be cancelled completely as what Cambridge International Examinations did.
“Scheduling examinations is not a panacea to Covid-19. This is a pandemic that has claimed many lives in the world and continues to do so. A declaration means nothing if the necessary health protocols recommended by the World Health Organisation are not followed,” Ndlovu said.
“We are not ready for June examinations. Teachers are not willing. If the authorities go ahead with their plan, we are headed for industrial conflict. We cannot have pronouncements that ignore environmental dictates,” Ndlovu said.
He urged Government to look at what other examination systems have done and compare their response.
“Government should consider what Cambridge, an international examinations body has done. They cancelled their June examinations and this is something we should consider. Our learners are not in the right psychological space to write examinations. They are fearing for their lives, so are our teachers.
“Writing an examination at this point may end up defeating the purpose behind examinations, unless we are doing them just to tick boxes,” Ndlovu said.
Teachers are also suggesting that Government pays them a risk allowance.
Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (Artuz) president, Mr Obert Masaraure, said the June examinations should be written when conditions are right.
“There is no rush really. We do not want to lose lives, we should not force premature reopening of schools. Learners, teachers and everyone involved in the processes should be tested before there is any activity at schools — be they exams or lessons,” said Mr Masaraure.
He said the idea that this June examination was the last sitting that would be allowed under the old curriculum was immaterial in picking a date.
“The papers that need to be written will just be written when it is safe. Nothing changes, the same paper these learners are supposed to write this June is what they will write when it is safe to do so,” he said.
In his report back to his constituency, Mr Manuel Nyawo of Zimbabwe National Teachers Union (Zinatu) said June was not the best month to reopen.
“People will need to travel from various parts of the country to the examination centres and given the conditions prevailing, most of those who registered for June exams will find it difficult to meet the examination timelines due to serious mobility challenges,” said Mr Nyawo.
There were also concerns that the months of June and July in which schools are expected to reopen carry a high probability for infections of ordinary flu.