AS schools reopen for examination classes on Tuesday next week, almost six months after the COVID-19-induced closure, anxiety has gripped parents, pupils and teachers among several stakeholders, and this is not without reason.
The government has staggered the reopening of schools, starting with learners writing final examinations. Those writing the Cambridge examinations were the first to open on September 14 followed by Zimsec candidates on September 28.
While parents are excited that their children will be finally returning to school for the examinations which will see them proceed to the next level, they are also concerned about their health and safety in light of the pandemic that has had profound effects, claiming millions of lives across the globe.
Although the Zimbabwean government claims it has mobilised adequate resources to ensure a safe return for learners, there are concerns from stakeholders including parents and teachers that the country, beset by a host of social and economic challenges, does not have the capacity to provide a hygienic environment for the pupils, teachers and ancillary staff.
Some stakeholders — including teachers unions, have demanded the testing of all pupils and teachers before the reopening of schools. In addition, they also want the government to provide personal protective equipment, thermometers and sanitisers in a bid to ensure a safe environment for learners.
Their demands also include a review of salaries which should be paid in foreign currency to cushion them from galloping inflation.
Although the government has shown commitment to improve sanitation in schools where there is lack of running water, there are genuine concerns that there could be another spike in COVID-19 infections if Zimbabwe fails to meet WHO guidelines.
More importantly, the Zanu PF-led government has a history of dishonesty. It is high on pronouncements, but terribly short on implementation.
Although there have been no reports so far of infections among learners writing Cambridge examinations, and those that wrote the June examinations, that does not guarantee the safety of returning pupils and staff because the Zimsec examinations — normally written in November — have by far the biggest number of pupils, which provides a big test for the regime’s state of preparedness.
Citizens still have fresh memories of South Africa’s experience when it hastily reopened schools, only to be forced to close them following a spike in infections.
If South Africa, an economic giant, could face such a challenge, Zimbabwe is even more vulnerable considering the lack of resources and our rickety public health delivery system.
It is against this background that parents, pupils, teachers and other stakeholders remain concerned about the reopening of schools before everyone is satisfied that all guidelines that ensure a safe and healthy environment for learners has been created.
The general sentiment is that Zimbabwe is ill-prepared for the reopening of schools.