The Sunday News
Debra Matabvu, Harare Bureau
GOVERNMENT has revealed that schools will resume classes mid-next month, following hard on the heels of universities, whose doors are set to be reopened from June 1.
The Minister of Primary and Secondary Education Ambassador Cain Mathema told our Harare Bureau yesterday that “schools will be opened three to four weeks from now”. To prepare for the resumption of studies, Government is set to hire 6 000 teachers as part of a comprehensive plan for the safe and smooth opening of schools in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. This will bring the number of teachers to 140 000.The country currently has about 4,5 million learners.
“The 2020 exam class will resume classes first, followed by 2021 exam classes two or three weeks later, with the rest of the groups following in that manner,” said Minister Mathema.
Phase three will consist of Grades Three, Four, Five and Form Ones and Twos. Phase four consists of Grades Two and One while phase five will see the resumption of Early Childhood Development classes, which are set to open last. Before resumption of the new school term, teachers will be screened and tested to ensure learners’ safety. They will also receive training on Covid-19.
As part of the new measures, schools will get thermometers for screening, while learners will be allocated personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face masks, hand sanitisers and additional furniture, including desks and chairs, needed to enforce social distancing.
Classrooms will be divided into two to ensure social distancing, with Government setting up temporary classrooms. The measures are part of the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education’s Covid-19 Education Response Plan. Minister Mathema told our Harare Bureau that he had met with teacher unions and presented the plan to them.
“We are going to have a phased approach of opening schools like President Mnangagwa announced. Schools will be opened three to four weeks from now but we want to make sure that our schools are safe to reopen, so we have put in a lot measures to ensure that schools are safe.”
Although the preparations are quite onerous, Government will ensure there will not be any cutting of corners.
“First, we want to make sure that the teachers undergo testing and screening, and Government is going to take care of that. We will be effecting social distancing at schools. For instance, a classroom will be divided into two, with some classes being conducted in temporary buildings. This also means we will be recruiting more teachers. So far, we have been given the greenlight to take 6 000 teachers. Classes will resume two to three weeks apart.
Government will also be opening a centralised e-learning centre which will embrace every pupil in the country.
The e-learning facility will be done through WhatsApp, radio and television platforms. Government is currently in talks with various broadcasters to cater for e-learning.
“We have started renovating studios at our centre for curriculum studies in Harare and our other studios in Bulawayo. We will also have a centralised e-learning centre at the Ministry, which will use WhatsApp as its main channel.”
The ministry has decentralised the implementation of the Education Covid-19 Response Plan. Some primary and secondary schools are producing face masks, hand sanitisers and outsourcing furniture suppliers.
Mr Patrick Zumbo, the ministry’s spokesperson, said Government has come up with a plan which is being implemented in schools in all provinces in preparation of schools opening. However, some teacher unions are against Government’s proposed plans. They argue that there is not enough time for the ministry to put in place all the things that need to be implemented before schools open.
Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe president Dr Takavafira Zhou confirmed Government had presented its plans to them.
“However, we feel it is too early. We feel opening schools this term would be unrealistic. We feel it is the responsibility of Government to provide masks for every learner, teacher and ancillary staff. Of which it cannot be done within the next few weeks.”
Schools and universities were closed earlier than scheduled in the wake of the growing threat of Covid-19. Universities are set to open on June 1 starting with final-year students going to campuses with other classes doing online learning.