Exam classes in false start

Students writing an examination

CHAOS rocked most schools as they reopened for examination classes yesterday, with thousands of pupils turned away over lack of personal protective equipment, non-payment of fees, while in other instances teachers were either absent or staging sit-ins, derailing preparations for crucial year-end tests due in the next few weeks.

by Brenna Matendere/ /Richard Mponde/Harriet Chikandiwa

The development came exactly a fortnight after government gave assurances thatit had disbursed $600 million for procurements of PPE to protect leaners and teachers against contracting COVID-19.

However, a survey by NewsDay revealed that in the majority of schools in Matabeleland North, Midlands and Mashonaland West, pupils were turned back home for not wearing masks. In rural Manicaland, Masvingo and Matabeleland North, school authorities were only admitting paid-up pupils, with some classes failing to resume due to the absence of teachers.

Zimbabwe Teachers Association chief executive Sifiso Ndlovu yesterday blamed government for the chaos.

“There is chaos. I am not even sure how materials for those PPEs where sourced as schools are now expected to pay for them (instead of being given for free by government),” he said.
Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe president Obert Masaraure said his organisation planned to confront government for clarity on how the $600 million set aside for schools reopening materials was disbursed.

“No learning is taking place, Matabeleland North is worst hit with only 1% of teachers reporting for duty. In Mashonaland East around 5% of teachers were in attendance. Teachers have boldly communicated their message to the employer, we demand US$520 for all teachers,” he said.

“Learners were being sent back home. Parents are also failing to pay for learning materials and tuition fees. Education is in crisis. Schools are still to receive the PPE from government, we will be following up on the disbursed $600 million to audit expenditure. Some learners showed up at school with rags covering their faces as they can’t afford decent face masks.”

Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe president Takavafira Zhou also questioned how the $600 million pledged by government was used.

“There is no sign of what the $600 million was used for and it did not filter to schools. Reports from schools indicate that they don’t have money to buy masks,” he said.
In Chinhoyi, NewsDay witnessed hundreds of Grade Seven, O and A-Level pupils walking back home as early as 9am after being turned away for lack of face masks.

The most affected were Lomagundi Primary School which had no thermometers to check body temperature, Nemakonde and Chemagamba high schools which demanded that pupils bring their own face masks.

“We were told at the assembly that the school has no thermometers, sanitizers and face masks for us …we were asked to go home and come back tomorrow,” said a Lomagundi pupil who declined to be named.

Mashonaland West provincial education director Gabriel Mhuma said it was possible that some schools turned away teachers and learners for lack of PPE.

“True, it’s possible to have schools that may have turned away learners and teachers for failing to have functional thermometers. We expect their replacements by end of day today. Ministry ordered that in such circumstances, opening be deferred to Tuesday to allow replacements of such thermometers,” he said.

In Bulawayo, at Mgombane, Mgoqo, Queen Elizabeth, Sigombe, Mtshane primary schools and Mandandwe, Mncumbatha, Nkulumane and Nketa high schools, pupils were dismissed early as there were no teachers.

“We live five minutes away from the school gate and so I inquired from my daughter whether she had forgotten something. She told me they were told to go home until further notice as there were no teachers at school,” said a parent whose daughter is enrolled at Mtshane Primary School for Grade Seven.

Staff at Borrowdale Primary School and Harare High School did not report for duty citing incapacitation. The authorities sent WhatsApp and text messages to advise parents to pick up their stranded children.

Several schools in Mhondoro, Kadoma and Sanyati reported similar experiences with the heads referring all questions to the provincial headquarters in Chinhoyi.

In Norton, Grade Seven pupils at St Eric’s Primary in Katanga were also sent back home with authorities citing lack of PPE.

Pupils in Kariba were sent home after the town had gone for days without running water despite its proximity to the country’s largest man-made water body, Lake Kariba.

“We are not surprised that teachers sent back pupils over the water crisis as Kariba Municipality has failed to rectify the water crisis despite a new water reticulation system put in place recently,” said Edna Muronda, a parent.

Teachers unions on Saturday insisted that their members would not report for duty unless government has met their demands. — Additional reporting by Nhau Mangirazi/ Lloyd Mwale/Nunurai Jena