BY VENERANDA LANGA
THE Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) has called on the government to begin meaningful engagement with teachers’ unions and other education stakeholders to come up with a way forward in terms of re-opening of schools as the education sector has been severely hit by COVID-19.
PTUZ president Takavafira Zhou in a statement yesterday said while his organisation does not regret pushing for delays in re-opening of schools until the health of teachers and pupils was safeguarded, it was now high time for government to give clarity over the 2020 academic year rather than “take a lackadaisical approach to the crucial issue of re-opening of schools”.
“It is becoming more clear that chances of opening schools this year are farfetched and remote, but even if schools are to open next year, there is need for preparation towards that, let alone clarity over the 2020 academic year,” Zhou said.
“There are no clear plans to assist pupils other than homiletic, bellicose and rhetoric of radio and television lessons, and while the efficacy of such lessons is certainly undoubted, we wonder how this would become a reality in a country where 75% to 80% of areas have no television and radio frequencies,” he said.
Zhou said the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education should engage stakeholders on the way forward, in terms of the health, safety, and welfare of teachers and pupils as they remain a crucial issue to be addressed before schools can open.
“Our sober reflection is that the country cannot afford to cancel the 2020 academic year even if schools open in January next year. Rather, pupils must be given an opportunity to learn for two to three months before they can write the end of 2020 academic year exams,” he said.
“This can be followed by a 2021 academic year divided into two-three months learning terms and ensure that by end of 2021 we have rectified learning challenges emanating from COVID-19 related closure of schools.”
Zhou said cancellation of the 2020 academic year would mean that there will be too many Early Childhood Development and Grade 1 classes in 2021 as the current pupils would be joined by the new 2021 pupils.
He said such a situation would create challenges even for form one enrolment as there would be too many Grade 7 graduates in 2021, including those from 2020. PTUZ said it was also worrisome that the government has maintained silence on the discrepancies between teachers’ salaries and other sectors in government.
“With salaries ranging from $3 800 to $4 200 inclusive of allowances, all teachers have tested positive to poverty and are always scavenging for food. It is callous for the government to ignore the plight of teachers at a time when it is pampering other sectors with fewer qualifications, years of experience and responsibilities with salaries that are five times that of teachers,” Zhou said.
He said the government must pay teachers the US$550 salaries that they have been demanding because only well paid, motivated teachers can be dynamic and innovative even during the COVID-19 pandemic era.