While the school calendar for this year is still being finalised it is likely that there will be three normal-length terms each of 60 teaching days, meaning exceptionally short school holidays once weekends and public holidays have been taken into account.
Already yesterday, the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education said schools would not break for the traditional first school holidays incorporating the Easter and Independence Day holidays, but there would be no classes on these public holidays.
Normally when schools can open for the first term early in January the first term ends shortly before the big batch of late March and April public holidays with the second term ending just before the Heroes and Defence Forces long weekend.
The school calendar is likely to be finalised this week.
With almost 12 weeks of the year taken up before most classes resume on March 22, a week after the three examination years return on March 15, and with each term being over 12 weeks once public holidays are counted in, there appears to be only around a total of three to four weeks for the three school holidays this year.
Representatives of school heads yesterday welcomed the phased re-opening later this month, but said that some cash-strapped schools were still short of personal protective equipment.
Government wants to ensure a safe re-opening of schools in line with World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines and recently completed a monitoring exercise on the preparedness of schools to conduct classes without risking a spike in infections.
The Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education said it was encouraged by the innovations of some schools to use other spaces like halls and common rooms for classes in compliance with social distancing regulations.
Under the guidelines, classes need to be split or otherwise rearranged to have smaller numbers to allow more space between pupils.
The ministry also allayed fears of possible rent-seeking behaviour by schools increasing fees and gave assurance that social distancing protocols would not result in learners losing their places.
“Some schools have been innovative in utilising other spaces within the schools for classes, spaces like common rooms and halls to ensure adherence to social distancing regulations,” said the Ministry’s spokesperson Mr Taungana Ndoro.
“School fees have to be approved by Government. The state of preparedness in most schools is encouraging save for a very few and we are working on that to ensure everyone will be ready possibly by the end of this week,” he said.
National Association of Secondary Heads president Mr Arthur Maposa and his National Association of Primary Heads counterpart Mrs Cynthia Khumalo both welcomed the decision saying the re-opening of schools was long overdue.
“We have been waiting for a long-time to return to normal classes and it’s a relief that classes are now resuming,” said Mr Maposa.
“Our appeal is for Government to sort out the outstanding issues with teachers’ unions before the resumption of classes so that there won’t be disruptions when we finally start.
“There are issues of personal protective equipment and the vaccinations for stakeholders which must be clearly explained as well to ensure an incident-free resumption.”
Mrs Khumalo hailed the decision to resume classes, but highlighted a few areas of concern which she said needed to be addressed.
“We are happy schools are re-opening because children have suffered for so long. They are used to going to school and they want to return. We still have challenges of PPE and some schools cannot afford to provide them because of the huge utility bills accrued during the lockdown period.
“Some parents might find it difficult to get these PPE so we appeal to Government to provide them,” said Mrs Khumalo.
Child President Mukudzeiishe Madzivire also welcomed the move to re-open schools.
He said despite the threat posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, pupils wanted the re-opening of schools.
“Online learning has been helpful for some but it has not been as effective for those living in areas where network connectivity is a challenge.
“Re-opening schools solves this problem. Our only plea is that children are kept as safe as possible throughout the coming school days,” said Madzivire.
Most parents commended the decision to resume classes despite the threat of the pandemic saying they were determined to play a part in the protection of children.
They said their worry was that some private schools would try and raise fees beyond their reach and appealed to Government to take action against errant schools.