CHAOS rocked the start of the Zimbabwe Schools Examination Council (Zimsec) June “O” and “A” Level examinations which started yesterday, with teachers’ unions claiming government hired “villagers and ancillary staff” to invigilate the public examinations after most of their members boycotted over poor working conditions.
BY PRECIOUS CHIDA
The unions said in addition to having to contend with poor salaries, government failed to put in place measures to combat the spread of COVID-19 during the exams.
On Monday, the Zimbabwe Teachers Association (Zimta) accused government of failing to set up logistics to transport teachers to the new examination centres.
Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) president Takavafira Zhou yesterday told NewsDay that
schools in rural areas had resorted to hiring villagers to supervise the examinations, raising questions about the integrity of the examinations.
At Vhembe Secondary School in Matabeleland South province, district officials invigilated the examinations, while in other areas including Zvishavane, Mberengwa, Karoi, Mutare, Uzumba, Maramba and Pfungwe, parents were hired to invigilate the examinations after teachers failed to turn up.
School development committee members were reportedly invited to scout for people with at least five “O” Level passes, who were hurriedly interviewed to take up posts as invigilators.
“It was a mess, and it is terrible,” Zhou said.
“Other headmasters have told pupils to pay US$1 every day they are writing so that the schools can have money to pay the hired invigilators.”
He added: “There are reports from the rural areas of schools that enticed some villagers to come and invigilate under the supervision of at least a teacher in every class and some heads have sent an SOS through Parent Teacher Associations (PTA) for villagers with 5 ‘O’ Levels to report to schools for consideration as invigilators.
“We are also aware that some individuals are being called in with the promise of jobs and schools have also called ancillary staff to invigilate. Teachers in administration and some heads of departments have reported to schools because they receive money for managing exams.”
Many “O” Level candidates, Zhou said, who also registered for November failed to turn up, opting to write at the end of the year when possibly COVID-19 would be under control.
“About a third of those who registered in November failed to turn up. Another sad development was recorded in schools in border areas, where some candidates just sneaked in from other countries and went straight into examination rooms with others. It is terrible,” he said.
“In other areas like Matabeleland South, there were no sanitisers and infrared thermometers were not available. One school approached the nearest health centre, which demanded five litres of fuel every morning to go and take candidates’ temperatures before they get into the examination room.”
Most candidates, who failed to come, were afraid of contracting the coronavirus due to lack of personal protective equipment (PPE).
Most of them also cited high transport costs and non-availability of transport to examination centres as well as exorbitant daily boarding charges.
Candidates are reportedly being made to pay US$5 a day boarding fees to cover running costs.
Teachers last week urged the government to ensure that coronavirus is totally brought under control before the opening of schools as they cannot afford to experiment with their lives.
“The government has gone ahead with the June examinations without (meeting) the requisite standards of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and this is going to be disastrous for the nation. As teachers, we have been very clear and we are not going to turn up for invigilation until our concerns are met.”
But Zimta chief executive Sifiso Ndlovu said: “Teachers have not boycotted the invigilation, they agreed to it with the promise that they are going to get personal protective equipment (PPE). However, the equipment is not available in other schools.
“Several schools have started the examinations without masks or sanitisers, with some having 500ml for the whole school, which is not enough.”
Government on Monday assured the nation that necessary measures would be put in place to ensure the safety of candidates and invigilators.
These included provision of thermometers, disinfectants, face masks, washing facilities and sanitisers to all examination centres to protect against COVID-19.
Zimsec spokesperson Nicky Dhlamini, however, said the examinations went on well and the turnout of teachers was “impressive”.
“The turnout of teachers was very good,” she said.
She denied allegations by teacher unions that there was chaos and challenged the groups to bring evidence to support the allegations.
“Examinations are run by Zimsec, if we found that there were no invigilators, we could have shut down the examinations. But we did not because our monitors did not give us such a report. The allegations are false,” she said.
Primary and Secondary Education minister Cain Matema was not picking calls, but Cabinet last night claimed that the standard operating procedures for the prevention and management of COVID-19 had been established as public examinations commenced.
It also approved partial opening of restaurants and local hunting operations.
However, a teacher who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the government was risking their lives and was not being honest with them.
“There are no sanitisers and disinfectants in schools contrary to what the minister said,” the teacher said.
“Our minister lied on the news. How are we going to be helped if they continue lying like this?
“PPEs are not there and thermometers for screening are not available as well, so how should we be safe in these conditions? To make matters worse, they are even telling parents to ensure the safety of their children undertaking June examinations,” he said.