BY STAFF REPORTERS
CHAOS characterised the opening of schools yesterday after some non-examination classes turned up and were sent back home, while most teachers did not report for work saying they would only do so after their salary demands are met.
Only Grade 7, Form 4 and Upper 6 pupils, which are examination classes, were expected to resume classes yesterday, while the rest of the classes will join them on Monday.
Snap surveys by NewsDay revealed that at some schools, mostly private ones, authorities were demanding COVID-19 test results from pupils before they were allowed to enter the premises.
Cash-strapped parents in Harare told NewsDay that they were concerned about the extra costs they would incur after private schools insisted on COVID-19 test results.
Some schools demanded results conducted through rapid diagnostic tests, while others opted for the more reliable polymerase chain reaction tests, which cost between US$50 and US$70, depending on the medical institution.
“We understand the reasoning behind the tests, but imagine someone with three children. How are you supposed to come up with more than US$150 on top of the fees and uniforms?” asked a parent who preferred not to be named.
“Some schools were turning away pupils with rapid antibody certificates and demanding antigen tests,” said another parent.
Some testing centres charge US$15 for a rapid antibody test which most schools were not accepting.
At a top Marondera school, Watershed College, non-examination pupils turned up and had to be sent back home.
The head, Fiona Benson, said: “The boarding non-examination classes will return to hostels on Sunday March 21 for face-to-face lessons, while day scholars will return for lessons on Monday morning.”
In Bulawayo, most learners went to school, but it could not be established if teachers turned up.
However, Coghlan Primary School had its pupils in class with a few teachers conducting lessons.
Other schools visited by NewsDay included Lobengula Primary, Robert Tredgold Primary and Mzilikazi High, where sanitising was being properly done at the school gates.
At Howard Mission in Chiweshe, boarders were ordered to be in the school yard by 3pm on Sunday.
Parents who spoke to NewsDay said pupils who arrived late slept at the school gate as authorities insisted on COVID-19 test results.
At Umvukwes Primary in Mvurwi, pupils with fees arrears were sent back home in violation of a recent government directive.
Teachers’ unions said most of their members did not report for work citing incapacitation.
Zimbabwe Teachers Association acting national secretary-general Goodwill Taderera said: “At the schools that I visited today (yesterday), I noted that most learners did not have masks. The sanitisers were there, but they were inadequate.”
Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe president Obert Masaraure said teachers would give government up to March 22 to resolve the education sector crisis, or else his union would invite citizens to take to the streets to save the sector from collapse.
“Learners are being sent back home in most rural schools because of low teacher turnout. The survey we conducted this morning is pointing to a 21% teacher turnout. Schools are not prepared for safe opening in the face of COVID-19. The average compliance to COVID-19 standard operating procedures was around 25% nationally,” he said.
“Learners are also not ready to learn. There is need to psyche them up after the long layoff. Parents are failing to pay school fees and public transport is a serious challenge.”
Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe president Takavafira Zhou said: “The effects may not be visible to outsiders as teachers who are administrators (head, deputy head and senior master/mistress) have turned up and pre-occupied students. The effects would be felt on March 22 when the rest of students go to their schools.”
Zhou said the only thing that could bring teachers back to school was paying them a rescue package equivalent to the $30 000 salaries paid to the uniformed forces, and then allow negotiations to continue under credible representation.
“The sooner government addresses the welfare, health and safety of teachers, the better as there are chances of the situation in schools deteriorating due to teachers’ incapacitation. Our members did not report for work, but you cannot rule out that a few individuals did so, particularly those married to political bigwigs,” he said.
Zimbabwe National Teachers Union chief executive officer Manuel Nyawo said: “As far as we are concerned, we have set conditions under which schools should reopen, and among these are bringing our salaries in tandem with those that were awarded ahead of us. Secondly, we need our salaries to be reverted to November 2018 (US$520 to US$550).”
Primary and Secondary Education ministry spokesperson Taungana Ndoro said they were continuing with efforts to make sure the teachers’ grievances would be addressed.
He said teachers reported for work and schools managed to follow COVID-19 prevention guidelines.
“The state of preparedness in respect of social distancing and innovativeness of schools in utilising other spaces within their premises for boarding, dining and classroom purposes is quite commendable and we continue to reiterate that strict adherence to our state of preparedness, as well as World Health Organisation protocols and guidelines from the Ministry of Health and Child Care are paramount for the prevention and management of COVID-19,” Ndoro said.