The Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) has responded to reports that the government is contemplating reopening schools.
We present the union’s statement in full below.
PTUZ SUBMISSIONS ON EDUCATION RE LOCKDOWN AND POST-LOCKDOWN SCENARIOS
The PTUZ wishes to make the following submissions on what we believe should be the way
forward in relation to Covid-19 and the education sector.
As we are all aware, schools were closed on 24 March 2020 in response to the Coronavirus pandemic, which was just making inroads into the African continent. At the time schools were shut, we were exactly nine working days away from the planned closing date. The country had barely registered a case and there was palpable fear and apprehension in the country towards the virus, which was wreaking havoc in Europe and China. South Africa had closed down schools and engaged in a lockdown, which Zimbabwe also declared on 29 March 2020.
Developments since then Since the lockdown that was declared on 29 March, Zimbabwe has officially registered 31 cases,
4 deaths and two recoveries to date.The country has also tested a bit more than 5 thousand people for the virus. Our major fear is that winter is also kicking in, with cases expected to soar as a result of the cold conditions that will be prevailing. That being the case, we are presenting our document under two broad categories, best case scenario and worst-case scenario respectively.
1. There is talk that the Ministry expects to get permission to re-open schools, without specifying when exactly that could happen. Our submission is that at the moment, it would be grossly irresponsible for the government to re-open schools at a time when it is not clear whether we are moving forward, backwards or stationary in terms of managing the novel disease. We are actually in a worse position than we were when we closed schools. There are also many people returning from abroad, and we do not know what danger they pose or whether they do carry the Coronavirusornot. Granted, some may have been tested, but the fact that the number of asymptomatic cases is rising elsewhere in the world works glaringly against early and haphazard opening of schools without taking a systematic, empirical, realistic and informative environmental scan.
2. We cannot put learners, teachers and stakeholders at risk of contracting the disease by opening schools now. We should wait at least until mid-July and review the situation then, in view of the fact that winter is a time of flu and other respiratory illnesses and it is easy to conflate the ordinary flus with Covid-19. We need to be careful about the timing of the opening of schools. There is no prize for exhibiting Dutch courage against a disease that has brought even countries with the best health care systems to their knees. In fact, in the worst-case scenario, it may even be necessary to re-open schools post-winter, possibly in August going forward.
3. In relation to the usual ZIMSEC examination schedule, which is meant to start towards end of May, we again suggest an extreme cautionary approach. It is, therefore, prudent that we learn from regional and international jurisdictions on how other Education ministries and examination boards have done. As you may be aware, some countries such as Britain have deferred the scheduled examinations as the full impact of the pandemic is yet to be assessed, analysed and felt. In the worst-case scenario, it may be necessary for us to do the same until there is clarity and certainty on the scale of danger posed by this coronavirus within our borders. In the best-case scenario, examinations may continue later on as indicated by the latest Zimsec statement, but only subject to the following rigorous conditions, interalia, being met:
a) There should be no other activity at a centre on a day exams are being written, including learning, in order to minimise the possibility of cross-infections and to ensure the efficacy of the social distance operational matrix;
b) Exam rooms should be fumigated before and after every examination session at govt or Zimsec cost;
c) All candidates and invigilators must be provided with PPEs by the government at zero cost.
ZIMSEC should, therefore, ensure both candidates and invigilators are provided with PPEs during the duration of the exam;
d) There should be a health inspector at each centre to ensure the right procedures are adhered to including the use of sanitisers at gates to the school as well as into the examination rooms;
e) All invigilators should be provided with all PPEs such as work suits, gloves and masks by ZIMSEC and/or the government;
f) All those involved in the administration of examinations must be paid a meaningful COVID-19 risk allowance by ZIMSEC given the risk they take in running these examinations; and
g) all centres administering examinations must have running water or copious amounts of water to enable the necessary hygienic conditions to prevail.
It is our fortified view and conviction that schools should be opened in phases rather than at once. For this reason, it may be prudent to start with only examination classes given the absolute necessity of social distance and the existence of over-crowding in the generality of our schools. That way, these examination candidates would be spread as much as possible in the whole school so that the concept of social distance is observed and takes premium. After a full month the situation can be reviewed to see the possibility and feasibility of admitting other grades and forms.
We want to reiterate that our emphasis as a country should be meeting the criteria set by WHO as a precondition for re-opening schools before trusting our instincts as well as personal and national egos. We have 9159 schools on the country,6.5 million students covering ECDA to Upper Sixth,135000 teachers and more than 60000 ancillary staff. As you can see this is more than half the country and thus endangering them by opening schools without following the necessary WHO regulations would beak into mass murder of Hitlerian proportions.
The govt should endeavor to meet the following WHO guidelines for removing the lockdown before we start entertaining the idea of reopening schools for all;
1. Disease transmission is under control
2. Health systems are able to”detect, test, isolate and treat every case and trace every contact”
3. Hot spot risks are minimized in vulnerable places, such as nursing homes
4Schools, workplaces and other essential places have established preventive measures
5. The risk of importing new cases “can be managed”
6. Communities are fully educated, engaged and empowered to live under a new normal.
Furthermore, we are calling on the government to take full responsibility of the payment of salaries and allowances of all School Development Committee/School Development Association workers in the interim given that schools will be unable to pay them if schools do not open soon as there is no payment of fees during this period and schools are running or have already run out of financial reserves.
When schools finally open It is a fact that sooner or later, schools are going to open. We are, therefore, proposing the following minimum conditions to be in place as much as is practically possible when schools reopen:
1. The Ministry should ensure that all teachers and learners have all necessary PPEs of the very minimal standard such as disposable gloves and reusable masks. There should also be adequate test kits for all school no matter how remote they are from urban centres;
2. Before schools open, teachers should be trained on handling and managing learners and other stakeholders during the course of their duties with a view to eradicating the possibility of transmission of the disease;
3. All schools to be compelled to have sanitisers and thermometers at entry points to the school, every classroom and staffroom;
4. The government should pay a meaningful risk allowance to teachers in view of the fact that they are frontline workers in the fight against the disease since it is an uncontestable fact that teachers interact with thousands of children from a diversity of backgrounds per day;
5. Classes to be immediately de-congested through splitting and lowering the current high teacher-pupil ratios in schools to 1:15 at most so as to reduce the possibility of infections. This can be done through the employment of more teachers since we already have a low hanging fruit of a pool of unemployed qualified teachers;
We want to state without any equivocation that our members are not prepared to take the risk of teaching classes with more than 20 learners for nothing as the consequences are dire. As a union, it would be an abdication of responsibility if we sacrifice the lives of our members at the altar of national expediency;
6. The government should subsidise the fees of all learners by at least 50% in view of the fact that most parents were unable to scrounge for money during the lockdown. This should be done for at least one term;
7. There should be an ad Infinitum suspension of learner seminars, sporting activities, school assemblies, prize-giving ceremonies and Annual General Meetings in respect of social distance and also to minimise the possibility of infections from outside;
8. We also demand an immediate review, de-bunching and regrading of our salaries and education sector-specific allowances so that they are commensurate with our experience, qualifications and responsibilities;
9. For the avoidance of doubt, we demand the payment of our salaries at the prevailing interbank rate in view of the fact that the government has presided over inordinate price increases. Zimstats figures supported by the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe indicate that the consumer basket is now well above ZWL$6680 as was highlighted at the latest government Price Moratorium presser recently held;
10. The government should set up quarantine centres for learners affected by the disease;
11. The usual behaviour of Ministry officials where they move around schools under the guise of supervision should be stopped in order to avoid the possibility of them carrying the virus from one station to another. In fact, movements should for now be restricted to the ritual of home station-home until it is safe to wade out of that schedule;
12. We have also noted that some schools such as Mosi High, Plumtree and others have been used as quarantine centres for those returning from the diaspora. There should be fumigation of these centres before they can be used by learners again; and
13. There is need to monitor school buses so that they are fumigated as per regulations, whenever they are used to transport learners and teachers to and from schools. In fact, it is imperative that the govt reserves some buses strictly for learners and teachers so that they reduce mingling with ordinary people during the course of moving to and from schools. There is nothing like being too careful. We have to protect the lives of these learners and teachers.
Hope you will seriously consider these views gathered from the PTUZ members scattered around the country.