The Sunday News
Vusumuzi Dube/ Mthabisi Tshuma, Sunday News Reporters
BOARDING schools will open today to receive pupils who will be writing June/ July examinations that start on Tuesday.
As part of ensuring the smooth running of examinations, the Government has also directed that leave applications for teachers have been suspended in preparation for the examinations and subsequent re-opening of schools. As of yesterday, provinces were also making last minute attempts to ensure that adequate preventive measures were put in place at all the centres.
Primary and Secondary Education Minister Cain Mathema told Sunday News yesterday that most schools that will be used as examination centres have already put in place measures to ensure the process runs smoothly.
“As a ministry we are preparing as normal for the examinations, we are putting in place the preventive measures as guided by the World Health Organisation and we are confident that all will be in place by the time the examinations start. Our main aim is not to expose our learners and invigilators to Covid-19 hence our commitment to adhering to the High Court order,” said Minister Mathema.
Asked on the modalities to be followed for learners at boarding schools, the Minister said Government had given ample time to schools to make the necessary arrangements for the sitting of the examinations.
“This is an issue that was not announced overnight, instead the President made the proclamation about a month ago and this caters for all schools be it public, private or boarding schools, so school authorities were thus expected to have made the necessary arrangements for their learners,” said Minister Mathema.
Minister Mathema’s assertions come at a time when the Permanent Secretary in his ministry, Mrs Tumisang Thabela, has also directed all provincial offices to suspend leave applications for teachers. In a letter dispatched to provincial education directors (PEDs), Mrs Thabela said leave applications will only be entertained after 28 July.
“Please be advised that no leave applications shall be entertained during this period as we prepare to conduct the June/July Zimsec examinations and re-open schools. If members have emergencies they have to attend to, they can discuss with the Permanent Secretary.
Otherwise all critical staff are expected to be on duty and leave applications can be considered after 28 July 2020,” she said.
Provincial education directors in the Matabeleland region also reiterated that they were making last minute checks to ensure that the examinations run as expected. Matabeleland North provincial education director Mr Jabulani Mpofu said so far, all the 42 Zimsec centres for the June examinations have been disinfected as per the guidelines to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
“All the centres have been disinfected using chemicals donated by the National University of Science and Technology, while Lupane State University provided us with 1 000 litres of sanitisers,” said Mr Mpofu.
He said most of the June candidates were private candidates with pupils who are borders expected to be at the centres by today (Sunday). Bulawayo PED, Mrs Olicah Kaira and her Matabeleland South counterpart, Mr Bernard Mazambane also concurred saying they were on the ground overseeing preparations. Matabeleland South has 81 examination centres while Bulawayo has 47. However, teacher representatives said they were waiting to see weekend preparations and will have a proper position by tomorrow.
Zimbabwe Teachers Association (Zimta) chief executive officer Dr Sifiso Ndlovu said while teachers commend the efforts that were being put in place by the Government, they were concerned about the poorly resourced schools especially in rural schools. He said it was unfortunate that the schools were being told to produce and provide their own face masks, a huge task especially for schools in rural areas.
“We appreciate the role played by universities that have provided sanitisers to all examination centres but that is just a fraction of what is required. I must, however, commend the Government for the commitment that they are showing, this weekend will be very critical and by Monday (tomorrow) we will have a clearer picture. There is a major concern relating to face masks and infrared thermometers, with schools being asked to provide their own face masks, we risk a situation where come examination day schools would have not been able to provide these,” said Dr Ndlovu.
He said in the last feedback reports from around the country there were some headmasters raising concern that they may not meet the set standards.
Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) president Dr Takavafira Zhou said teachers were consulting their members over concerns on the actual fulfillment of commitment to ensure adherence to the World Health Organisation regulations.
He said it was critical for the Government and all relevant stakeholders to have first established a taskforce to oversee the June/July examinations rather than leaving it to the Government alone.
“The main concern is the provision that headmasters are supposed to ensure the availability of the face masks, which in some cases, mainly in the rural schools this might not be possible. We have seen in some cases headmasters now transferring the burden to learners to bring these Personal Protective Equipment, which is in itself a concern. As teachers we are maintaining that our safety comes first, if we realise that nothing has been done we will call for the further postponement of the exams, we will therefore be making a final decision on Monday (tomorrow),” said Dr Zhou.
Schools closed early as the country went into lockdown that started on 30 March to combat the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. Normal lessons are expected to resume at the end of July for final year examination writing classes. University final year students went back to class three weeks ago.
The Zimbabwe Schools Examination Council (Zimsec) said it is ready for the start of exams on Tuesday.
Zimsec Director Dr Lazarus Nembaware said they were prepared for the examinations.
“Everything is now in place and we are ready for the June examinations,” he said.
“There has been a delay in the writing of this year’s June examinations as we all know but we’re fully prepared,” he said.
The June exams will run from June 30 to July 23 with 66 000 students expected to sit for the examinations while being invigilated by 10 000 teachers