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Defer schools opening: Teachers

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BY TATENDA CHITAGU

TEACHERS’ unions have called on the government to defer schools opening to August or until the COVID-19 infections have subsided, saying going ahead with schools opening anytime soon would be “suicidal and genocidal”.

Zimbabwe is in the throes of a third wave of the coronavirus pandemic, with the country recording 2 264 cases and 34 deaths on Tuesday, according to the Health ministry’s daily situational update.

Cumulatively, the country has so far recorded 60 227 cases, 42 330 recoveries and 1 973 deaths.

Despite the gory statistics, the government, which deferred schools opening by two weeks following the surge in infections, on Tuesday said preparations for opening schools for the second term were at an advanced
stage.

A raft of measures that include visits to schools by Primary and Secondary Education ministry officials to assess facilities were announced by government.

Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe president Takavafira Zhou said the push by government to open schools was not pragmatic, but mere “wishful thinking”.

“Pragmatism and realism must triumph over vapid and vacuous wishful thinking,” Zhou said.

“The reality on the ground is that schools would not open any time soon. All tertiary institutions have suspended face-to-face learning.

“At any rate, we have minors in schools that cannot fully comprehend the impact of COVID-19. If we have closed institutions used by adults, how can we open schools where there are kids?”

He added: “We are also aware that schools do not have COVID-19 abatement equipment, and money allocated to assist schools has not filtered to schools, while standard operation procedures have not been followed.

“Put succinctly, teachers and pupils are not immune to COVID-19 and their health and safety must be prioritised.

“We are also aware that the government has no capacity to test all 136 000 teachers, ancillary staff and nearly six million pupils. It is suicidal to allow the congregation of people of such magnitude in schools in a period of escalation of COVID-19 cases.”

Another teacher’s organisation, the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union in Zimbabwe (Artuz) echoed the same sentiments, calling on the State to capacitate teachers first before thinking of reopening schools.

“Government should attend to teacher incapacitation before thinking of reopening schools,” said Artuz president Obert Masaraure.

“Teachers should receive pre-October 2018 salaries. We are also concerned with the COVID-19 scare in the absence of enough resources to support adherence to standard operating procedures (SOPs).

“We urge government to avail resources to enable schools to adhere to SOPs. A vaccination programme for the education sector should be launched. The programme should first target all willing adults who are part to the physical school ecosystem.

“Second phase should target all adults living with children of schoolgoing age. We are concerned that learners continue to lose out on their right to education.”

The teachers’ unions are proposing that schools must remain closed until mid-August or even end of August when winter would have rescinded and temperatures would be high.

They also suggested that the government should do away with the second term or three terms in 2021 and allow students to open for one remaining term in August until the end of the year.

The educators also called on government to engage teachers and parents in order to come up with innovative methods of teaching pupils while they are at home, like class and subject WhatsApp groups that teachers have created, with government giving teachers data bundles and also approaching organisations like the United Nations Children’s Fund to supply learning gadgets for pupils from poor backgrounds.

Parents, the teachers said, to allow their children to use their cellphones for schoolwork and called on government to pay teachers a living wage in order to motivate them to assist pupils during this precarious period.

Under the current circumstances, the unions added, the Continuous Assessment Learning Areas tasks adopted by the Primary and Secondary Education ministry should be discarded in order to give teachers maximum time to cover the syllabus and adequately prepare students for examinations.

Young Women Christian Association of Zimbabwe’s Muchaneta Mukamuri said opening schools in the wake of the COVID-19 cases rise was “wrong timing”.

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