The first leg of the three-phased reopening of schools ended yesterday, two weeks after it started.

Pupils who will sit for their Zimbabwe School Examinations Council (Zimsec) tests this year returned to class countrywide, a fortnight after those who are writing Cambridge exams. Boarders started arriving at school on Saturday as authorities sought to have enough time to enable them to take the kids through the Covid-19 prevention and control protocols.

The total number of pupils who will write the Zimsec Grade Seven, Forms four and six tests this year is not known yet but it must be huge.

According to Zimsec, a total of 323 207 kids sat for the Grade 7 examinations last year, 296 464 for Ordinary Level tests and 51 862 for Advanced Level. This suggests that almost as many returned to school yesterday.

The second phase is set for October 26 when Grade Six, Form Three and Form Five classes reopen while the third and final phase is set for November 9 when Grades One, Two, Three, Four and Five, Forms One and Two return to class.

It has been highly emotional for parents and their children as they part for the first time after Covid-19 forced them to be together since March. According to the Ministry of Health and Child Care, the country, as at Sunday had 7 812 confirmed cases, 6 106 recoveries and 227 deaths after nine new cases were recorded.

A parent Mrs Sibongile Ncube, captured the emotions marking the re-opening of schools.

“This virus is real but we have no option because our children have to continue with their education,” she told us on Sunday.

“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.”

Parents and guardians’ caution is normal. They are unsure if teachers and support staff would ensure that the school environment is disinfected as thoroughly as necessary. They are unsure if the re-opening of schools will not result in a new wave of infections as we have seen in some countries. They are unsure about the safety of their children and particularly how public schools with typically huge class sizes would be able to uphold the recommended social distancing as well as enforcing wearing of face masks and sanitisation.

While the concern among some parents, guardians and learners is normal, we take heart from the fact that Covid-19 cases are dropping suggesting that we, as a country, have potentially put the disease under some control, minimising the risk of a resurgence. We are optimistic too not only because of the $600 million that the Government has invested to ensure that schools reopen safely but also the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) being implemented in response to Covid-19.

According to the SOP, break and lunch time will be staggered to prevent crowding by learners. Sporting activities have been banned. Schools are now required to keep records for teachers and pupils with underlying conditions without stigmatising them.

A maximum of 35 pupils is 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, share desks or stationery as some used to.

Temperature checks must be conducted as kids arrive with schools now bound to have isolation rooms for those found with high temperature before they are referred to heath facilities.

These measures must be strictly adhered to. Every one of us must note that while the Government is re-opening the economy and nudging life back to normal, complacency can undo the good work that we have all done against Covid-19 since March. Phase one must succeed. If it does, the succeeding ones should succeed as well.