CHOOLS reopen today under a new normal which requires both teachers and learners to strictly adhere to Covid-19 prevention regulations as directed by the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education Standard Operation Procedures (SOP).
There was a hive of activity in Bulawayo and other parts of the country yesterday as boarders gathered at different pick up points to board buses to their respective schools ahead of the opening today.
Last Friday President Mnangagwa emphasised the need for schools to strictly adhere to set down regulations so that they minimise exposure to Covid-19.
By 8AM yesterday, scores of pupils had gathered at the usual pick up points such as the Large City Hall car park while other buses picked pupils along George Silundika Street.
The pupils had their tempeatures checked and were sanitised before boarding the buses in line with the Ministry’s SOP.
In Matabeleland North, schools like Mabhikwa High School in Lupane and Mosi-oa-Tunya High School in Victoria Falls that were used as quarantine centres were fumigated ahead of the opening.
In the Midlands province boarders started arriving at schools such as Regina Mundi, Thornhill, Fletcher and Chaplin High yesterday afternoon.
Authorities in Matabeleland South said last Friday that they were ready for the opening of schools.
Some parents and their children could be seen making last minute shopping in Bulawayo on their way to board buses. A few parents said they decided to drive their children to different boarding schools because buses provided were not adequate and therefore too full.
Schools are opening for the first time since March when they were prematurely closed as part of Government measures to curb the spread of Covid-19.
Only the Zimbabwe School Examinations Council (Zimsec) sitting classes which are Grade Seven, Form Four and Form Six are opening today following Cabinet approval for a three phased reopening of schools.
Grade Six, Form Three and Form Five classes are expected to open on October 26 with the rest of the pupils reopening on November 9. Cambridge sitting examination classes opened on September 14.
It was an emotional farewell between parents/guardians and the children as the pupils returned to school. Parents expressed concern around the safety of learners away from home.
They also expressed uncertainty over the level of preparedness of schools to strictly adhere to Covid-19 preventive measures.
The story was however different for pupils who were excited to return to school after the long break of nearly six months.
The pupils said they were knowledgeable about the threats posed by Covid-19 to their health and its impact on their education.
One of the parents Mr Lawrence Mlopo said it was prudent for children to return to school as staying at home does not guarantee immunity from the Covid-19 pandemic.
“My only concern is the issue of teachers reporting for work because we have heard rumours that they have declared incapacitation. Schools will reopen but our fear is that teachers might either not report for work or they report for work but do not teach. In terms of preparedness, I think pupils were reading for the exams at home and the two months will therefore be enough to prepare for the exams,” he said.
Another parent Mrs Sibongile Ncube said it has to take the whole community to ensure that children are safe in school.
“This virus is real but we have no option because our children have to continue with their education. We have to let our children go to school because education is their future. We surrender the rest to God to protect our children while hoping that on their part they strictly adhere to safety guidelines. We also hope that Government has ensured that all necessary measures have been put in place to allow for the safe reopening of schools. Schools, we want to believe, have adequate sanitisers, face masks and enough classrooms and desks to allow for social distancing,” said Mrs Ncube.
Some of the parents said they were finding it difficult to raise the high fees demanded by schools given that many of them were affected by Covid-19 economic disruptions.
They said they were still recovering from the impact of Covid-19 hence it has been hard for them to raise the required fees.
“Some of the schools are demanding about US$350 or equivalent in local currency. This is not easy money to come by. Right now, I’ve just sent my child to school but I really don’t have the money for her fees,” said the parent who declined to be named.
Some pupils said the two months to prepare for the exams was not enough but they will strive to do their best. They said the fortunate ones were those whose parents had money to pay for private lessons during lockdown.
A Form Four pupil at Mtshabezi High School Sandisiwe Dube said as pupils they will do their best to adhere to health guidelines provided by schools because they know that the pandemic has killed many people around the globe.
“I wasn’t prepared for schools reopening but the reality is that the schools are opening tomorrow and we have to adjust. We have to write the final examinations although we have not been in school for a long time. We will try our best and we hope even our examiners will take into consideration that this has not been a normal learning year,” said Sandisiwe.
Her counterpart Awakhiwe Ncube assured his parents that he will excel in the exams despite the disruption caused by Covid-19.
“It pains me that we have not been in school for a long time and have not completed our syllabi. I took extra lessons during the holiday and I am confident I covered a lot of ground. I will definitely pass five or more subjects come examination day,” said Awakhiwe.
The deputy Minister of Primary and Secondary Education, Edgar Moyo, said the $600 million that Treasury released has been utilised to capacitate schools for reopening.
“It’s all systems go for the reopening of primary and secondary schools across the country. We went around the country as a Ministry last week and schools with needs were identified and assisted.
“The National Pharmaceutical Company (Natpharm) has also been delivering prescribed Personal Protective Equipment to ensure all the schools meet the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Ministry of Health and Child Care, Covid-19 prevention regulations,” said Deputy Minister Moyo.
He assured teachers that the issue of their salaries was being addressed as Government is committed to pay a living wage to its employees.
“Government is sincere about addressing the salaries of teachers and the rest of civil servants. The cushioning allowances deposited into their accounts can take them through while salary negotiations continue. It is in this spirit that we believe that teachers will report for duty tomorrow (today),” he said.
According to the SOP school administrators, teachers, learners and ancillary staff are banned from hugging, handshakes and sharing of desks.
They are compelled to wear face masks, sanitise hands, have temperature checked and wash hands regularly as part of measures to prevent contracting Covid-19.
Under SOP, break and lunch times will be staggered to avoid crowding while sporting activities are banned.
Pupils and teachers that are not feeling well are not be allowed in class while those with underlying illnesses should notify authorities.
Under the new normal, classrooms will be trimmed to a maximum of 35 learners to address congestion issues and Government is in the process of recruiting an additional 6 000 teachers to attend to the increased workload as a result of smaller classes .
Schools that were used as quarantine centres have been fumigated ahead of schools opening today. Chronicle