Government’s decision to defer the opening of schools “until further notice” has brought with it relief and anxiety.
Cases of local transmissions of coronavirus, including fatalities, have been flaring up over the past three weeks.
There are growing concerns over the emergence of a more contagious and virulent virus, which is roiling other parts of the world, particularly neighbouring South Africa.
This prompted the Government to act.
Public examinations will continue from January 5 to February 5 as previously scheduled.
While learners, school heads, parents and health experts are agreed that the Government made the right call, there is still lingering anxiety on whether learners would be able to make up for lost time, especially after losing a huge chunk of the school calendar last year.
Schools were initially closed on March 24 — six days before the national lockdown — to curb the spread of the virus.
The phased reopening of schools only started on September 28 with exam classes.
The rest of the learners were, however, in school by November 8.
While the National Association of Secondary Heads (NASH) president Mr Authur Maposa and his National Association of Primary Heads counterpart Mrs Cynthia Khumalo welcomed Government’s bold decision, some parents believe opening schools a week after the holidays was premature.
“In my case, I literally starved myself as I put money aside for books and school uniforms. It is disappointing to be told that schools are not being opened after I had made such a sacrifice,” Amos Mazaiwana, a parent who lives in Harare’s high-density suburb of Budiriro, said.
“Besides the rise in Covid-19 cases, it was not in the best interests of the parents and learners to open schools on January 4. We are coming out of Christmas and New Year’s Day holidays, and parents were not given enough time to look for fees and uniforms.”
Primary and Secondary Education Permanent Secretary Tumisang Thabela said the postponement was indefinite.
“We do not have provisional dates as to when we will reopen yet as this will be determined by the situation. As for examination classes and release of results, we have not moved from the scheduled timeframes,” she said.
Zimbabwe Teachers Association (Zimta) chief executive officer Sifiso Ndlovu said testing all learners and staff for Covid-19 would be convenient to ensure safety.
He said there was need for collective efforts to tackle the disease if schools are to open any time soon.
“There is need for everyone involved in the education sector to put heads together for the good of our children because the Government alone cannot conquer this.
“All learners who are to sit for examinations need to be tested and as for other classes, right now home is best as we wait for the Government to make it safe to reopen the schools,” Ndlovu said.
Zimbabwe Schools Development Association/Committees secretary-general Evaristo Jongwe claimed the indefinite suspension was timely.
Allowing schools that have not recorded any coronavirus cases could be advisable, he said.
“Out of the 9 600 schools, we have less than 30 that were affected. In my view, such schools should have been allowed to open. We lost a lot of learning time, hence there is need for us to quickly get back to classes,” said Jongwe.
Child president Mukudzeishe Madzivire said the education sector is currently in a fix.
“We are facing a tricky situation. We cannot rush to open schools. At the same time, we can also not stay away from classes for much longer,” he said.
However, Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) president Dr Takavafira Zhou said the schools could only be opened when all the necessary precautions had been put in place.
“When we closed schools, some learners and staff had just tested positive for Covid-19, the holidays were very short and some of the affected students and staff had not recovered psychologically.”
But Government believes that the release of Grade Seven and Form Four results and subsequent recruitment to new schools would be seamless since there already exists a convenient portal for candidates.
Primary and Secondary Education Minister Ambassador Cain Mathema said: “The dates will be announced in due course. As for the selection criteria for Form One places, we will use the online platform.”
Before the recent postponement, some retailers had already hiked the prices of school uniforms.
In Harare, school uniforms were being sold for between $4 000 and $ 4 500, up from $3 000 last year.
“This year things are really tough. Prices have gone up and if schools were to open this early, it was going to be chaotic. The postponement was a blessing in disguise,” said Chipo Chikerema, a parent whose children attend Harare’s Nettleton Primary School.
The Consumer Council of Zimbabwe is trying to rein in rogue retailers through using the Consumer Protection Act.
“As CCZ, we cannot directly control prices but we set standards and guidelines of what should happen, we give certain price ranges,” said CCZ executive director Rosemary Siyachitema.
Zimbabwe, like the rest of the world, is trying to manage the coronavirus.
As of December 28, 12 963 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 341 deaths had been recorded. During the last school term, 300 learners, teachers and staff tested positive for Covid-19.
Among schools where cases of the coronavirus were detected are Waddilove, Chinhoyi High, John Tallach, Prince Edward and David Livingstone.