Zimbabwe schools opening put on hold

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PREPARATIONS for the second school term have begun but opening will now be delayed as authorities roll out changes to how the academic institutions will operate in view of the Covid-19 scourge.

They were scheduled to open on May 5. Zimbabwe’s lockdown was last week extended by a fortnight to May 3.

But with Government planning to overhaul the learning environment through a raft of changes that include reducing class sizes to enforce social distancing, this is no longer possible.

The reorientation, necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic, will also involve provision of protective wear for educators and regular disinfection of schools.

Further, Government is mobilising a budget to procure sanitisers for all schools and new single-student desks.

Authorities told The Sunday Mail that schools will only open when the Covid-19 outbreak has been sufficiently contained and a safe learning environment for pupils has been                                                fashioned.

Plans being considered include provisionally allowing pupils sitting for public examinations this year to return to school while measures are put in place to allow for the rest to resume classes.

Grade 7, Form 4 and 6 classes sit for public examinations towards the end of the third term.

Primary and Secondary Education Deputy Minister Edgar Moyo said only President Mnangagwa would issue a proclamation to reopen schools.

“In terms of the school opening calendar we are still looking at the dates,” said Deputy Minister Moyo.

“We will stand guided by any pronouncement made by His Excellency the President after consultations with his team and advisors. We will look at the progression of the disease in terms of how well we manage to contain it.

“We are preparing at the moment, but we cannot anticipate when schools will be opened because this is a function of reading how well we manage the disease.”

He said the school calendar will most likely be altered as a result of the disruption occasioned by Covid-19. Social distancing will be enforced at all schools once they reopen.

“We are looking at how, when schools eventually open, we will deal with things like enforcing social distancing at the schools especially in classes. We are looking at things like reducing class sizes, school furniture for single student sitting and how this can be used to enforce social distancing.

“We are also looking at how we can provide the relevant protective equipment for our teachers and school staff, and how we can also protect our children. Provision of sanitisers is also important as well as disinfecting schools which will be prioritised,” he said.

Deputy Minister Moyo said Government is consulting stakeholders so that in the event that the President makes a pronouncement, they are not caught off guard.

“Right now we are working on budgeting for procurement of the requisite stuff we need, this includes sanitisers, furniture and disinfectants.

“We are working with our partners as well as looking at what contribution Treasury can make. What is certain is that our schools will never be the same when they reopen.”

“We are not yet there and we cannot speculate on the position that will be taken (regarding partial opening of schools) and that may turn out to be the way.

“It is one of the options that we are considering but it is only as part of preparations, we cannot discount any option now. In short, we are developing a plan in anticipation of the pronouncement.”

Zimbabwe Schools Development Associations/Committees secretary-general Mr Everisto Jongwe said schools should be the last institutions to open after the lockdown.

“It’s a Catch-22 situation,” he said.

“For a start enforcing social distancing is very tricky in schools. We have schools that have up to 4 000 pupils and to ask them to enforce social distancing is impossible, worse still if it is a boarding school.

“Then you look at the issue of providing protective equipment, and asking Government to provide that for teachers, support staff and pupils is a huge ask.

“We have to be very careful about what we do before we can reopen schools. Reopening schools should be the last issue on the table after we have reopened the rest of the country.”

Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe president Dr Takavafira Zhou urged Government to consult widely before reopening schools.

“The most important lesson we have is that schools cannot reopen for the second term but can open for the third term this year. It is noble that Government is considering all these options but as you know saying one thing and doing it are two very different things,” said Dr Zhou.

“What Government needs to do is engage us as teachers unions so that we can agree on the way forward together and this is so that we can also share our concerns.

“The idea of opening schools later in the year is very noble but it has to be supported by all because the security of teachers and pupils is paramount.”

All schools and tertiary institutions closed on March 24.

Announcing the closure, President Mnangagwa said Government “will advise on dates for the reopening of all teaching institutions in the country once the threat of the virus is adjudged to have receded”. – Herald