Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe, ARTUZ notes with disgust the attempt by the government to open schools during the obtaining national lockdown.
The Zimbabwe Schools Examination Council, ZIMSEC earlier on announced that June examinations will be conducted beginning on 30 June. The Minister of Information Hon Monica Mutsvangwa latter announced that schools will open on 28 July for candidates for 2020 public examinations.
It should be noted that 66 000 candidates are sitting for 2020 June examinations. 9 900 teachers will be needed to invigilate the examinations.
On opening schools, 136 000 teachers and almost 5 million learners will be admitted in our schools.
The teacher compliment will have to be boosted by 90 000 teachers to achieve social distancing in our classrooms and plug the gap of staff shortage.
ARTUZ jointly authored petitions with 6 other Teacher Unions on 2 May, 26 May and 8 June 2020. On three occasions, we sought to impress upon government on measures that should be undertaken for safe schools opening.
On 29 May we made submissions to Parliament portfolio committee on education making recommendations on conditions that should be met for safe opening of schools.
Our recommendations were taken on board by the committee as demonstrated by the motion moved for debate by Committee Chairperson Hon Misihairambwi Mushonga on 4 June 2020.
The ensuing debate was one-sided with all parliamentarians agreeing that schools should remain closed until safety measures have been instituted.
It was, therefore, a shock for us when ZIMSEC announced dates for June examinations and we were further shocked when the Minister of Information announced dates for reopening schools.
Our recommendations to both the executive and parliament were as follows.
1. Desist from an impulse opening of schools without ensuring that it is very safe to do so,
2. Open churches, bars and weddings first before schools to assess the contagious effect of gatherings of 50 plus people,
3. Ensure that the Coronavirus epidemic is totally under control before taking the steps of the opening of schools.
4. Ensure the verifiable fumigation of all schools before they open as well as at regular intervals thereafter. Schools that are currently used as quarantine zones should go through rigorous fumigation and confirmed safe by competent personnel in the Ministry of Health and Childcare,
5. Ensure the rapid testing of all pupils and teachers before schools open for business and provision of the same at regular intervals,
6. Pay an acceptable risk allowance to teachers as in essence they are frontline workers in the education system.
7. Capacitate teachers in identifying and handling COVID-19 in case of infections or reinfections in schools,
8. Postpone ZIMSEC June examinations until it’s verifiably safer to write them;
9. Consider and assess the impact of returnees from high-risk countries flocking back at the moment, both through official and illegal means
10. Enable the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education to establish a task force comprising teacher unions, health and education officials to carry out covid19 risk assessment in schools,
11. Take cognisance of the effects of the cold season we are entering as it quickens infection rates of this type of epidemic,
12. Reduce teacher-pupil ratio to 1:20 through employing more teachers urgently,
13. Supply PPEs, test kits, thermometers and sanitizers to all 10 000 schools. These should be adequate enough for 4.6 million students, 136 000 teachers, and ancillary staff,
14. Ensure uninterrupted provision of safe running water for all schools,
15. Ensure through the line Ministry that every pupil has at least 3 washable and safe masks,
16. Stop the use of teaching and learning facilities for political gatherings or any unnecessary congregations in order to minimize the risk of infection of teachers, ancillary staff and learners,
17. Test samples of masks and sanitisers produced for use by teachers and learners to ascertain if they meet the standard requirements as stipulated by WHO or the Ministry of Health and Childcare.
18. Pay teachers salaries that resonate with their 2018 salaries of US$520 or its inter-bank rate equivalent in order to restore salaries’ purchasing power parity that has been eroded by conversion to local currency, together with the attendant inflation,
19. Provide a workable plan for teachers with pre-existing medical conditions in order to reduce or eliminate their possible exposure to Covid19.
It should be noted that the Executive is still to announce a budget for the safe opening of schools.
It is against this frustrating background that we will be forced to block the opening of schools and the writing of June examinations.
We are seeking an interdict from the courts to block both the writing of June examinations and opening of schools on 28 July.
We are also mobilising for massive street protests by teachers and parents demanding salary review for teachers.
We remain open to dialogue.
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