GOVERNMENT has announced that all classes will be back to the classroom by November but the reopening of schools will be done in phases. Schools reopened on September 14 for Cambridge sitting examination classes and the Zimbabwe School Examinations Council (Zimsec) sitting classes are opening on Monday. Grade Six, Form Three and Five will open on October 26 while the rest of the learners including ECD classes will open on November 9.

Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said on Tuesday that the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education was highly prepared for the staggered reopening of schools under the Covid-19 environment.

The Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education said on Monday that teams from its head office are visiting schools throughout the country to check on the schools’ preparedness ahead of the phased reopening.

Many schools, mostly in urban areas have said they are ready for the reopening under the new normal.

The big challenge is in the rural areas and we therefore, implore the ministry’s teams assessing the schools’ preparedness to visit schools in remote areas.

Some schools in these remote areas have challenges such as shortage of classrooms, furniture and learning materials such as textbooks making it difficult for them to comply with the requirements of the recommended Standard Operating Procedures (SOP).

The ministry has said school authorities should ensure that pupils and teachers comply with the “new normal” spelt out in the SOP.

Under the new normal, hugging and handshakes are prohibited and pupils will not share desks and educational materials such as textbooks.

A classroom will have a maximum of 35 pupils to enable pupils to maintain social distancing. Break and lunch times will be staggered to avoid overcrowding and all sporting activities are banned.

The comprehensive operating procedures which the Education Ministry came up with to guide school authorities are meant to minimise pupils and teachers’ exposure to the pandemic.

There is therefore, an urgent need to address the issue of classrooms, furniture and learning materials shortages at rural schools to enable pupils and teachers to comply with the SOP.

There might be a need to provide temporary structures to be used as classrooms to enable social distancing.

The ministry, we want to believe, has mobilised adequate resources to enable it to immediately address any shortcomings identified by the teams visiting the schools.

Government took the right decision to reopen schools and this should be supported by all that have the interests of children at heart.

The WHO, Unesco and Unicef who have published a set of guidelines on how to reopen schools, have said the reopening of schools should be prioritised to ensure education continuity.