Mashudu Netsianda / Patrick Chitumba, Chronicle Reporters
PUBLIC schools reopened yesterday for the Zimbabwe School Examinations Council (Zimsec) examination classes with both staff and students adhering to the mandatory Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) in response to Covid-19 to ensure compliance.
The measures include wearing masks and observing social distancing with some schools turning away pupils as teachers failed to report for duty citing incapacitation and inadequate personal protective equipment (PPEs).
Schools reopened for the first time since March when they were prematurely closed as part of Government measures to curb the spread of Covid-19.
Government released $600 million to prepare schools for safe reopening for examination classes.
However, some schools turned away pupils as teachers failed to report for duty citing incapacitation and inadequate personal protective equipment (PPEs).
Last Friday President Mnangagwa emphasised the need for schools to strictly adhere to set down regulations so that they minimise exposure to Covid-19.
The Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education a few weeks ago released SOP in response to Covid-19 to ensure compliance to World Health Organisation and Ministry of Health and Child Care coronavirus prevention regulations.
The SOP was designed specifically to guide schools on reopening. According to the document, break and lunch time have been staggered to prevent crowding by learners while sporting activities have also been banned. Schools are now required to keep records for teachers and pupils with underlying conditions without stigmatising them.
A maximum of 35 pupils are allowed in a single classroom as learners and teachers will be required to maintain a physical or social distance of one metre in the school premises. Teachers and learners are no longer allowed to hug each other, shake hands or share desks as they used to.
It is also a requirement for temperature checks to be conducted with schools now mandated to have temporary isolation rooms for those found with high temperatures, before they are referred to heath facilities.
Only the Zimsec sitting classes which are Grade Seven, Form Four and Form Six opened yesterday 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.
A Chronicle news crew yesterday visited selected schools in Bulawayo and observed that those which had reopened were adhering to the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education’s mandatory Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) as part of the new normal.
Few schools were turning away pupils as teachers failed to report for duty.
Zimbabwe Teachers Association (Zimta), which represents 42 000 teachers said its members failed to report for duty due to incapacitation and lack of PPEs.
The news crew spoke to some parents of pupils in Nkulumane who indicated that pupils were turned away because there were no teachers.
Mrs Sithokozile Moyo said her twin sons attending school at Mtshane Primary School in Nkulumane were also turned away.
“We are actually wondering what exactly is happening because my two sons who are set to write their Grade Seven final examinations were turned away because there were no teachers. When I went to school to enquire the only excuse was that the classes were yet to be fumigated,” she said.
Zimta chief-executive officer Dr Sifiso Ndlovu said their members resolved to boycott learning until the issue of PPEs in schools was addressed. “Schools, especially public schools are yet to be equipped with PPEs and as Zimta we felt it was not proper to expose both teachers and pupils to Covid-19. Even parents don’t have money for PPEs and therefore you will note that most of our members failed to report for duty,” he said.
“Government had also promised to recruit more teachers ahead of the reopening of schools and it wasn’t the case. Another issue is that teachers are incapacitated and they told us that they would have no bus fare to go to work.”
A snap survey in the city revealed that most schools opened without glitches with both staff and students adhering to the SOP, which include wearing masks and observing social distancing.
Government early this month announced the reopening of examination classes for both Zimsec and Cambridge examination classes and subsequently distributed SOP to all schools.
The Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education is working closely with other ministries and stakeholders to guarantee the safety of pupils and staff during the examinations period. The SOP states that no visitor will be allowed in schools except essential service providers.
Physical distancing of at least one metre will be adhered to by both teachers and learners while minimising sharing of education stationery including textbooks.
Schools were closed late in March ahead of the initial 21-day national lockdown, but reopened briefly for June examinations.
Chronicle could however, not access the classrooms at the schools as authorities barred the news crew citing health regulations.
Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education director of communications and advocacy, Mr Taungana Ndoro, said the ministry was yet to receive a detailed report following the reopening of schools yesterday.
He, however, said the provincial education directors and district education officers and others were on the ground assessing the situation.
“As far as the Government is concerned, the schools were supposed to reopen and indeed they have reopened. Yes, there might be cases where pupils are turned away for various reasons, but we are working on it. It’s too early to discuss that because we have our officials from our provinces and districts on the ground to make sure operations run smoothly,” he said.
“Obviously, the situation will improve as we go on. For now, we are still assessing and will give a position in due course.”
In Midlands, scores of pupils were turned away as authorities cited unavailability of PPEs
As early as 7AM, pupils were arriving at primary schools which include St Paul’s, Chikumbiro, Takawira in Mkoba 2, 6, 17 suburbs respectively, CJR, Stanley in the city centre, Riverside in Athlone and secondary schools which include Mkoba 1 and Mkoba 3, Matimunura in Mkoba 9, and Thornhill and Chaplin.
The pupils who reported for lessons all had face masks while others had hand sanitisers.
But by midday the pupils had all been turned away by school authorities who indicated that they didn’t have enough PPEs to manage the pupils. Parents who called the Chronicle offices yesterday expressed dismay at the school authorities for turning away their children.
“My child is doing O-level at Chaplin High School and he is home now because he has been turned away. I understand the school is saying they are still to receive PPEs for the teaching staff and supporting staff and can’t risk having our children attending classes. They have been asked to check if the PPEs would have arrived tomorrow (today),” said Mr Maxwell Chindanga from Athlone.
In Mkoba suburb, parents complained of the same situation saying there was a false start in the reopening of the schools.
“My son is in Grade 7 at Chikumbiro Primary school and she has been turned away. I had given her two face masks and a sanitiser but she said they were told that there are no PPEs for the teachers. So, we don’t know what is happening,” said Mrs Mirirai Shumba from Mkoba 6 suburb.
School heads who spoke to this publication on condition of anonymity said they had no thermometers, sanitisers or face masks.
They said the Government had promised them but they are still to receive any PPEs.
“We can’t put these pupils in danger. We don’t have enough thermometers, sanitisers, masks and the idea of attending two classes since one class is divided into two is not going on well with teachers. So, the pupils have been turned away as we wait for the Ministry to provide the PPE and extra teachers to take other classes,” said a school head. — @mashnets @ @pchitumba1