The Sunday News
Robin Muchetu/ Bruce Ndlovu, Sunday News Reporters
THE National Taskforce on Covid-19 will meet tomorrow to deliberate on the opening of schools before making recommendations to Cabinet which will sit on Tuesday, where a decision will be taken.
The schools second term is supposed to start next week but a resurgence in cases of Covid-19 has resulted in Government announcing lockdown measures while other districts are already under localised hard lockdown.
Kwekwe, Karoi and Makonde have already been placed under localised lockdown following a spike in cases.
Bulawayo has been named as a hotspot with suburbs like Emakhandeni and Entumbane being the prime areas including northern suburbs.
National Covid-19 taskforce coordinator Dr Agnes Mahomva told Sunday News yesterday that the issue of the opening of schools was on the agenda and a final decision will be taken this week.
“We are looking into it. You are aware there is a taskforce that is always guided by science. We look at data on the ground and we make decisions based on that data. This taskforce meets every Monday and Cabinet sits every Tuesday. You will definitely hear from that process,” said Dr Mahomva.
Schools are supposed to open on Monday next week but concerns have been raised by several sectors over the safety of re-opening them amid an increase of Covid-19 infections with fears of a strain from India spreading within the population. Teachers’ trade unions have called for mass testing in educational institutions ahead of the re-opening of schools while calling for the Government to expedite the payment of health insurance cover to teachers that have contracted Covid-19 while on duty.
A third wave of Covid-19 is threatening to engulf the country and unions have expressed reservations about the prospect of re-opening without any cover for their members. At the beginning of the year, the Government promised that civil servants who contracted Covid-19 in the line of duty would receive health insurance cover ranging from US$650 to US$1 000 paid in local currency at the prevailing official exchange rate.
Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) president, Mr Takavafira Zhou told Sunday News that teachers across the country were still waiting for the payment of the health insurance cover as promised.
Mr Zhou called for mass testing of teachers and pupils ahead of the opening of the second term, while also encouraging authorities to provide schools with the requisite Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
“We also call upon the Government to seriously interrogate lucid options over the opening of second term learning.
Either Government must adopt a broad-based strategy of testing all teachers and pupils in order to combat the spread of Covid-19 in schools, in light of the recent quantum leap of cases. It would also be prudent to provide Covid-19 abatement equipment to schools such as masks, sanitizers, thermometers, testing kits, as well as decongesting classes and hostels,” he said.
Mr Zhou said, should the postponement of the opening of schools become reality, the Government and its development partners should come together to ensure that pupils in remote areas were also equipped to continue learning while at home.
“Such postponement must be accompanied by a robust practical e-learning regime where teachers should utilise class and subject WhatsApp groups to promote learning. Government must intervene in providing data to teachers and appeal to Unicef to assist in sourcing and providing learning gadgets like smartphones to pupils who do not have the learning tools, mostly in rural areas. There is a need to act with urgency if the 2021 academic year has to be credible, otherwise our results may be worse than the 2020 results that were disastrous,” he said.
Primary and Secondary Education Ministry director of communication and advocacy Mr Taungana Ndoro said the issue of reimbursement of health insurance funds did not fall under the ministry. He said when schools re-opened, the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs prescribed by the ministry before would still abide.
“The Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education is not responsible for that. It falls under the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare. When schools re-open, we will be maintaining strict adherence to our SOPs,” he said.