The Sunday News
Vincent Gono, Features Editor
THE Government is finalising modalities that will see primary and secondary school learners receiving lessons through radio in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic that has disrupted the school calendar leading to cancellation of Cambridge international examinations for May and June.
Primary and Secondary Education Deputy Minister Edgar Moyo told Sunday News in an interview yesterday that they have since reached an agreement with the national broadcaster – ZBC on having school lessons broadcast on its radio stations.
He however, could not reveal when the programme will start.
“We are not yet sure as of when the schools are going to open. That will be said by the President after consultations with the relevant stakeholders and in line with the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines.
“We, however, admit that a lot has been disturbed in our learning. As you are aware, we closed schools early and we are not yet sure of the dates of opening. We are still under lockdown. We have examination classes and we are just preparing ourselves for the realities that we are going to open schools one day. So, in that regard we have engaged ZBC and agreed to have lessons on radio for both primary and secondary classes,” he said.
Asked what would happen to those that have no access to radios because of poor radio signal reception and other social factors, Deputy Minister Moyo said material would be printed and distributed to rural communities that have no access to radio.
“We are developing printed material for those that will not be able to access radio lessons. We are mindful of the rural communities who have no access so a plan is in place for them. We know that some school work has been going on, on various social media platforms accessible to learners where teachers are sending their classes work to do but that is not formal, but it is not bad. It, however, only disadvantages those learners from poor backgrounds who have no access to gadgets and we hope the teachers will take that into consideration when schools open,” said Deputy Minister Moyo.
He added that the ministry was also preparing online lessons and material development through Ruzivo pushed by High Life Foundation which was a Government partner under Curriculum Development and Technical Services (CDTS).
The Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, he said, was working with the Ministry of Health and Child Care to ensure there would be adherence to guidelines such as social distancing, wearing of masks and use of sanitisers when schools open.
“Teachers will have to undergo sensitisation workshops, so it’s a whole lot of work that we are doing as we want to ensure a safe learning environment in our schools,” he said.
Deputy Minister Moyo encouraged innovation at school level saying items such as masks could be made at schools by those doing Design and Technology.
“There is a school in Karoi called Chikangwe High that is into manufacturing masks and that is the type of innovation that we want in schools,” he said.
In a statement released by Cambridge Regional Director in Sub-Saharan Africa Mr Juan Visser, the international examination board said it had cancelled the May/June 2020 examinations in all countries.
“Our decision not to hold our international examinations in the May/June 2020 series in any country was taken after much consideration; not least because many schools are closed and countries are under lockdown. This cancellation is not unique to Cambridge, most awarding bodies and ministries of education have taken similar decisions,” reads part of the statement.
Meanwhile, universities and colleges have also adopted online learning due to restrictions on travelling and social distancing.
Most of the country’s universities have, however, turned themselves into innovation centres where they have been capacitated to manufacture sanitisers. The Covid-19 pandemic has so far killed more than 198 000 people with more than 2.83 million confirmed cases worldwide. Zimbabwe, by Friday had 28 confirmed cases and four deaths.
Meanwhile, our Harare Bureau reports that preparations for the second school term have begun but opening will now be delayed as authorities roll out changes to how the academic institutions will operate in view of the Covid-19 scourge.
They were scheduled to open on May 5. Zimbabwe’s lockdown was last week extended by a fortnight to May 3. But with Government planning to overhaul the learning environment through a raft of changes that include reducing class sizes to enforce social distancing, this is no longer possible.
The reorientation, necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic, will also involve provision of protective wear for educators and regular disinfection of schools. Further, Government is mobilising a budget to procure sanitisers for all schools and new single-student desks.
Authorities told our Harare Bureau that schools will only open when the Covid-19 outbreak has been sufficiently contained and a safe learning environment for pupils has been fashioned. Plans being considered include provisionally allowing pupils sitting for public examinations this year to return to school while measures are put in place to allow for the rest to resume classes. Grade 7, Form 4 and 6 classes sit for public examinations towards the end of the third term.
Primary and Secondary Education Deputy Minister Edgar Moyo said only President Mnangagwa would issue a proclamation to reopen schools.
“In terms of the school opening calendar we are still looking at the dates. We will stand guided by any pronouncement made by His Excellency the President after consultations with his team and advisors. We will look at the progression of the disease in terms of how well we manage to contain it. We are preparing at the moment, but we cannot anticipate when schools will be opened because this is a function of reading how well we manage the disease.”
He said the school calendar will most likely be altered as a result of the disruption occasioned by Covid-19. Social distancing will be enforced at all schools once they reopen.
“We are looking at how, when schools eventually open, we will deal with things like enforcing social distancing at the schools especially in classes. We are looking at things like reducing class sizes, school furniture for single student sitting and how this can be used to enforce social distancing. We are also looking at how we can provide the relevant protective equipment for our teachers and school staff, and how we can also protect our children. Provision of sanitisers is also important as well as disinfecting schools which will be prioritised,” he said.
Zimbabwe Schools Development Associations/Committees secretary-general Mr Everisto Jongwe said schools should be the last institutions to open after the lockdown.
“It’s a catch 22 situation. For a start enforcing social distancing is very tricky in schools. We have schools that have up to 4000 pupils and to ask them to enforce social distancing is impossible, worse still if it is a boarding school.
“Then you look at the issue of providing protective equipment, and asking Government to provide that for teachers, support staff and pupils is a huge ask. We have to be very careful about what we do before we can reopen schools. Reopening schools should be the last issue on the table after we have reopened the rest of the country.”