Mukudzei Chingwere Herald Reporter
All school classes will reopen over the next six weeks in three phases, but with smaller numbers of pupils, more teachers and other health-related measures so that children can resume education without the risk of a spike in Covid-19 infections.

The phased reopening, approved by Cabinet yesterday, will be done in three stages. The three examination classes — Grade 7, Form 4 and Upper Sixth — open on September 28 in phase 1 as was announced several weeks ago.

Four weeks later, on October 26, next year’s examination classes — Grade 6, Form 3 and Lower Sixth or Form 5 — open in the second phase and a fortnight after that, on November 9, everyone else goes back to school — ECD A and B, Grades 1 to 5 and Forms 1 and 2.

In keeping with social distancing rules, classes must be smaller and so more teachers are being employed, classes might be split and steps taken to ensure no class will have more than 30 pupils in one classroom, a measure that will help teachers in the catch-up process.

Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Minister Senator Monica Mutsvangwa announced the phased reopening in Harare last night after the Cabinet meeting.

“Cabinet notes that all the necessary measures are being taken to ensure that schools are reopened for examination classes in a safe environment.

“Progress has been made on the comprehensive logistical plan for the coordinated, accelerated completion of the schools’ WASH project; the supply and distribution of personal protective equipment, hygiene kits, disinfectants, and infrared thermometers to all public schools,” she said.

Minister Mutsvangwa said there was impressive progress in terms of adherence to the new measures of all schools at district level, with most of the districts reporting improved levels of preparedness by schools.

“Cabinet approved that a Covid-19 sentinel surveillance system be established in schools to monitor the behaviour of the virus and make adjustments where necessary.

“Cabinet is pleased to announce that Cambridge Examination Centres reopened successfully on September 14 and no health incidents were reported in light of the high level of preparedness in the education sector,” said Minister Mutsvangwa.

Eight teachers’ unions yesterday in Harare expressed their worries over supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) and the need for improved salaries so teachers could get to work.

But Primary and Secondary Education Minister Ambassador Cain Mathema allayed their concerns both in terms of their protection and salaries.

The Government has set aside $600 million to be distributed to needy schools to increase sanitation, he said, and the Government and representatives of civil servants are in discussion over salaries and negotiations are continuing.

“On the personal protective equipment issue, all teachers and learners will be protected; supporting staff will be protected. You can be rest assured that what is required at each public school will be available,” said Minister Mathema.

The issue of salaries was confirmed by Finance and Economic Development Minister Professor Mthuli Ncube. “We have a process where there are negotiations. I cannot pre-empt the outcome, I do not know the outcome. But as Government we have expressed to civil servants what we are able to afford. I am sure we will be able to find some middle ground and move forward as usual,” said Prof Ncube.

“We always find some middle ground and I always thank the civil servants for working very hard, especially working with me. I am a hard charging individual, so they work very hard. So I personally want to make sure and the whole Government feels like that, that they are well looked after.

“We have done our best under the Covid-19 pandemic. We have even put the cushion in terms of the US$75 allowance and US$30 for pensioners, and let us also not forget our pensioners. So I think we will be able to reach a palatable ground and support them.”

National Association of Secondary Heads president, Mr Arthur Maposa, raised concerns over the transport of pupils and teachers to schools when they reopen.

In response Minister Mutsvangwa said Cabinet had already approved dedicated Zupco buses to ferry pupils to schools for examinations.

National Association of Primary Heads chair Mrs Cynthia Khumalo said it was all systems go for Grade Seven classes and examinations but raised concern for the other classes.

Though it will be based on operational procedure at each school, Minister Mathema said schools will be directed to decongest their classes and leaners will not be supposed to attend classes at one go.