Sunday Mail Reporters
GOVERNMENT faces an unenviable task of testing over 136 000 teachers in 29 days if it is to satisfy World Health Organisation (WHO) Covid-19 guidelines for the safe reopening of schools.
Schools reopen on July 28 and the Government was faced with the challenge to test and screen teachers and ensure learners were safe.
Zimbabwe has 4,6 million learners, 136 000 teachers and 9 625 schools, including satellite facilities.
This comes as boarding schools start receiving pupils today in preparation for June/July examinations which begin on Tuesday.
Primary and Secondary Education Minister Cain Mathema told The Sunday Mail that preparations for the reopening of schools would proceed as scheduled.
“We are going to do everything that is required by WHO to ensure the safety of teachers and learners,” he said.
“There is going to be thorough screening and testing of teachers and learners to ensure they are safe.”
Minister Mathema said most schools that will be used as examination centres had already put in place measures to ensure the process runs smoothly.
“Our main aim is not to expose our learners and invigilators to Covid-19, hence our commitment to adhere to the High Court order,” he said.
Asked about the modalities to be followed for learners at boarding schools, the minister said the Government had given ample time to schools to make the necessary arrangements for the sitting of examinations.
“This is an issue that was not announced overnight. Instead, the President made the proclamation about a month ago and this caters for all schools be it public, private or the boarding schools, so school authorities were thus expected to have made the necessary arrangements for their learners.”
Acting Permanent Secretary for Health and Child Care Dr Gibson Mhlanga said they were working with the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education to ensure the safe reopening of schools.
“We are working with the Ministry of Education to ensure that there is safe reopening of schools. However, the Ministry of Education can give you more details on that issue,” he said.
Dr Mhlanga could, however, not explain how the Government intends to conduct 136 000 tests in one month when the country has cumulatively done 65 704 tests (36 527 RDT and 29 177 PCR) since March.
Teachers’ unions said schools do not have enough resources to procure Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs), therefore, it was not possible to reopen them.
Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) president, Dr Takavafira Zhou said the reopening of schools was premature as resources were not yet in place.
“There is a need for Government to shelve schools reopening for now until they have enough PPEs for both teachers and learners,” he said.
“Government has been ordering schools to come up with masks and sanitisers, but it is clear that schools do not have the resources. Our main concern is the provision that headmasters are supposed to ensure the availability of face masks, which in some cases, mainly in rural schools, might not be possible.
“We have seen in some cases headmasters transferring the burden to learners to bring these PPEs, which is a concern. As teachers we are maintaining that our safety comes first, if we realise that nothing has been done we will call for the further postponement of exams. We will be making a final decision on Monday (tomorrow),” said Dr Zhou.
He said if schools are reopened next month as scheduled, then Zimbabwe would go the South African route, where some schools are now closing because of a rise in Covid-19 infections.
South Africa reopened schools on June 1, however, more than 200 schools have since closed after teachers and learners tested positive for Covid-19.
Zimbabwe Teachers Association (Zimta) chief executive officer, Dr Sifiso Ndlovu said while teachers commend the efforts that were being put in place, they were concerned about poor schools, especially in rural areas.
“I commend Government for the commitment that they are showing, this weekend will be very critical and by Monday (tomorrow) we will have a clearer picture.
“There is a major concern relating to face masks and infrared thermometers. With schools being asked to provide their own face masks, we risk a situation where come examination day schools would have not been able to provide these,” said Dr Ndlovu.
He said in the last feedback reports from around the country, there was confusion at some schools with heads raising concern that they may not meet the set standards.
“A good number of centres in Chikomba, Zimondi, Madzivire, Marondamashanu, to mention but a few in Mashonaland East said they had nothing to date. I think several rural centres might just go on without,” said Dr Ndlovu.
The Zimbabwe Schools Examination Council (Zimsec) said it is ready for the start of exams on Tuesday.
Zimsec director Dr Lazarus Nembaware said they were prepared for the examinations.
“Everything is now in place and we are ready for the June examinations,” he said.
“There has been a delay in the writing of this year’s June examinations as we all know, but we’re fully prepared,” he said.
The June exams will run from June 30 to July 23, with 66 000 students expected to sit for the examinations while being invigilated by 10 000 teachers.
Meanwhile, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, Mrs Tumisang Thabela has directed all provincial offices to suspend leave applications for teachers.
In a memo dispatched to Provincial Education Directors, Mrs Thabela said leave applications would only be entertained after July 28.
“Please be advised that no leave applications shall be entertained during this period as we prepare to conduct the June/July Zimsec examinations and reopen schools.
“If members have emergencies they have to attend to, they can discuss with the permanent secretary. Otherwise all critical staff are expected to be on duty and leave applications can be considered after 28 July 2020,” she said.