FULL TEXT: ZIMTA Statement On The Reopening Of Schools To Examination Classes

The recent announcement by the Head of State, President Emmerson Mnangagwa regarding the reopening of schools to examination classes has left most forward-thinking educationists shell shocked.

Re-opening of schools whilst hordes of people from the diaspora are being bused in from COVID-19 infested regions might be just as good as opening Pandora’s box.

Sadly, this announcement is in direct conflict with the situation obtaining on the ground where schools are being used as COVID-19 quarantine centres.

This raises the simple question, where are these classes expected to be carried out if these institutions are being used as quarantine centres?

The quarantine process of returnees has been marred by the huge influx of border jumpers who are taking advantage of some of the countries’ porous border posts, leaving the country vulnerable to further infections.

Taking a closer look at the Zimbabwean education set up vis -a- vis the World Health Organisation guidelines on social distancing, we can already see that there is conflict.

Average classes have a teacher to pupil ratio of about 1: 60 and such a large class cannot ensure effective social distancing.

The alternative would be to split the class which in turn requires the employment of another teacher. Without effective social distancing in schools, these institutions will easily turn into high infection zones with catastrophic results. Government needs to attend to that before there is any talk of re-opening schools.

Availability of Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) in schools is another area of concern. Looking at the way Government has handled industry by merely giving instruction without the financial backing in regards to the issue of testing employees, leaves a lot to be desired.

Schools most of which have dried up coffers are in no position to avail PPEs to Educators and pupils leaving this burden in the hands of Government.

Other schools of thought are encouraging the government to transfer the burden of PPEs to parents however the extended lockdown has left most households poorer than before as all informal traders are still banned from conducting any business activities.

Teachers who are the main characters in the administration of classes lack the technical and critical skills regarding the detection and handling of COVID-19 cases.

Just like we have witnessed unequipped frontline nurses losing their lives in the fight against COVID-19, the same could easily happen to Teachers as they interact with children from various homes and backgrounds.

Before schools re-open, teachers in all their wisdom need to be trained in effectively and safely handling themselves as well as their students in regards to COVID-19.

Whichever way you want to look at it, no teacher training on handling COVID-19, no classes, this is simply a non-negotiatiable issue. 

Temperature screening and hand sanitizing have been made mandatory at all entrances in all institutions, however, this comes at a cost.

Schools in this regard need to have someone who will be dedicated to this task which is another cost the Government is expected to cater for.

As the testing happens, proper guidelines in regards to the handling of suspected cases need to be in place and made available to schools well before they open. As we speak there is nothing of that sort.

In conclusion, everything else considered, the Government is hereby called upon to sit down the relevant health and education authorities as well as to consult widely before opening Pandora’s box.

With COVID-19 cases on the rise daily and the flu season being upon us, this will turn out to one of the worst decisions ever.

Zimbabwe’s capacity to test, trace contacts, isolate and treat patients is still way below pandemic standards and the premature opening of schools can result in more infections against an already weak health system. 

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