Next year’s examination classes — Grade Six, Form Three and Form Five — return to school today, with the Government assuring parents that all necessary precautions have been taken to minimise the risk of Covid-19 infection.
This follows the return of three examination classes four weeks ago near the end of September, with the precautions so far working, thus allowing the second phase with the final nine classes returning on November 9.
The Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education set standard operating procedures for all schools to guide the safe reopening of schools in the Covid-19 environment.
Ahead of the reopening today, parents and guardians yesterday were taking their children enrolled in boarding schools in Form Three and Form Five to the designated bus stops set by the schools.
Scores of pupils converged at the Harare Exhibition Park, the Civic Centre car parks off Abdel Gamal Nasser Road and Mbare Musika in Harare and Bulawayo City Hall car park and between 8th and 9th Avenue along George Silundika Street in Bulawayo waiting for transport.
Some parents made last-minute shopping before their children boarded their school buses. Pupils were sanitised and had temperatures checked before boarding.
In Gweru, Grade Six, Form Three and Five pupils at boarding schools such as Stanley Primary School, Regina Mundi and Thornhill High School arrived at school yesterday afternoon ahead of today’s reopening.
Some school authorities were cashing in on the Covid-19 by forcing parents and guardians to buy school-branded masks for as much as US$5.
Parents who spoke to The Herald in Harare yesterday complained that some schools had unilaterally increased fees, a move they said was not justified considering that the country was not in an inflationary environment.
Some parents implored school authorities not to turn away children whose parents had not yet paid fees.
Primary and Secondary Education Minister Cain Mathema said Government was prepared for the second phase of schools reopening.
He said the ministry would continue exercising caution in view of Covid-19 as it did with the running of the Zimsec June examinations and first phase of schools opening.
Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education director of communications Mr Tongoona Ndoro said: “The Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education is ready to provide a wholesome education for all Zimbabweans through an education system that is competence-driven and that is accessible, affordable and enables citizens to participate in the socio-economic transformation of the nation,” he said.
Mr Ndoro said it was illegal for schools to demand personal protective equipment from parents. “We are investigating the issue where schools are said to be forcing parents to buy face masks at exorbitant prices,” he said.
Teachers and pupils are expected to quickly adapt to the new normal to minimise the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. It is mandatory for learners to wear masks while handshakes, hugs and sharing of desks and textbooks have been banned as part of Covid-19 prevention measures.
Yesterday, The Herald talked to some parents and students in Harare ahead of the second phase of schools re-opening.
One parent, Ms Mary Grace Chikomwe, whose child is a lower six student at Kwenda High School, commended Government for allowing schools to re-open. However, she was worried about a possible shortage of teachers and called the Government for intervene.
She also said the fees charged by schools are too high given the short period children would be in schools.
“Also most of the schools are over charging on fees. Our children will be at school only for 40 days and most of the schools are charging $20 000 and above. The fees are too high. Some schools are profiteering.”
Another parent, Mr Saul Ndete, whose child attends Johane Masowe Vadzidzi vaJesu Centre Zimbabwe Africa High School said he was happy that their children were finally going back to school.
“I am happy that our children are going back to school after such a long time. But my worry is the shortage of teachers. I have another child in Grade 7 at a local school and I have since stopped him to go to school because of the shortage of teachers. We appeal to Government to intervene on this challenge.”
Mrs Mavilyn Dzvova, whose child is doing form 3 at Junction Adventist High School, urged pupils to behave themselves at school.
A lower six arts student at Sodbury High School, Diana Alexis Lifa vowed to work hard and urged her colleagues to do the same. “I am really happy to be going back to school, our holidays were very long. I will do my best in this one month I will be at school.
“All I can say to my colleagues is to be serious and appreciate the efforts our parents are putting so that we can go back to school. Let us put our books first, always pray because we can not achieve our goals without God’s grace.”
In Bulawayo, the parents and guardians said it was essential for the pupils to return to school as education cannot wait.
“We are happy that our children are finally going back to school. Most of them have regressed in their studies because they have not been to school since March. Government has been reopening various sectors of the economy and the education sector had been left behind. We just have to accept that there is Covid-19 and education has to move forward despite the pandemic,” said Mrs Nomusa Tshuma, who was accompanying a child at Solusi High School.
Another parent who identified herself as Mrs Sibanda said her only concern was that some teachers were on strike.
Another parent who declined to be named said parents have agreed to incentivise teachers so that they can teach. Government banned schools from demanding incentives for teachers as some of the incentives had become extortionate.
“With what is happening it is better for us to pay the little incentives to teachers so that they return to the classroom to teach our children. Our children have already lost a lot of time as they have been stuck at home for seven months without learning. We just hope Government will urgently address the teachers’ concerns so that normalcy returns to schools. Our children’s future is at stake,” said the concerned parent.
Break and lunch time will be staggered to prevent pupils crowding while sporting activities are banned.
In the past pupils or teachers who were not feeling well could attend classes but in the new normal this will be prohibited as the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education has adopted a stay at home policy for those feeling unwell until they recover.
Covid-19 is known to be more deadly among those with underlying diseases hence schools will now be required to keep records of teachers and pupils with underlying conditions without stigmatising them.
A maximum of 35 pupils will be permitted in a single classroom as learners and teachers will be required to maintain a physical or social distancing of at least one metre. Herald