BY HARRIET CHIKANDIWA/RICHARD MUPONDE
PRIMARY and Secondary Education minister Cain Mathema yesterday told Parliament that schools will reopen as directed by President Emmerson Mnangagwa, adding that he would soon issue a ministerial statement in the House on the country’s preparedness for resumption of lessons.
This was after MPs grilled him over measures that his ministry was taking to ensure the safety of schoolchildren and teachers before opening of schools.
Last term, children at different schools throughout the country contracted COVID-19.
“We have had this pandemic since last year and within the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, we have done all we could, and we are doing all we can to make sure we protect the children,” Mathema said.
“The ministry will do whatever is required to make sure that children are protected and everybody is protected, and if, indeed, this House wants me to give details as to which route to be followed by which school, if that is what I’m expected to present here, then give us time and I will come back and give those details to the House. I am ready to give a ministerial statement,” he said.
Mathema added: “Once we are given the directive by His Excellency, we will open schools.”
He said the education sector had learnt a lot from the COVID-19 challenges experienced last term.
“We will also learn from other countries, but we want to assure the nation that we will do everything in our powers to ensure the children’s safety,” the Primary and Secondary Education minister said.
“When the time comes, we will go out of our way to make sure that schools are open and children will be protected. We will manage this as we have done in the past.”
On exemption letters for children learning at private institutions, Mathema said they would be issued.
“If there is any need, we will issue those exemption letters depending on what is on the ground.”
However, teachers unions have demanded that Finance minister Mthuli Ncube writes off second term fees as incomes of a majority of people, including teachers, have been hit by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy and loss of livelihoods due to prolonged lockdown periods.
Ncube will today announce the mid-term fiscal policy review and different teachers’ unions suggested that government should take the responsibility for paying second term fees for all
Teachers also proposed that government should come up with a proper grading transition plan to cater for the time that learners lost due to suspension of learning due to COVID-19.
Zimbabwe National Teachers Union chief executive Manuel Nyawo said with four months left to the end of the year, it meant that technically, the second term was a write-off.
“What that should tell us is that if schools are to be reopened anytime in August under the guise of a second term, consideration must be given as to how long the term is going to be,” Nyawo said.
“We can’t have a second term of only two months. That would be naive, preposterous and devoid of logic.”
He said it would be absurd for parents to be asked to pay school fees when there was no learning for a long period.
It would also be cruel, Nyawo said, to subject learners to November examinations without inadequate preparation.
Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe president Obert Masaraure said: “Government should assume the responsibility of funding basic education as provided for by the Constitution.
“It’s not the responsibility of parents to be paying fees and government should realise that parents have been hard hit by these lockdowns and have lost incomes.”
Masaraure said Ncube had been celebrating budget surpluses and, therefore, should channel the funds towards writing off second term fees.
“There were attempts to do online learning, but this has been very erratic due to poor planning,” he said.
Primary and Secondary Education ministry spokesperson Taungana Ndoro said: “The idea of waiving fees for teachers’ children is not new, it has been forwarded to us for consideration as a non-monetary incentive. Consultations are still on-going.”
A recent World Bank report on poverty issues estimated that about 7,9 million Zimbabweans were living in extreme poverty due to the effects of COVID-19.