By Daniel Itai – The Zimbabwe Daily

Harare, Zimbabwe -Various stakeholders across the southern African country have expressed mixed feelings over the reopening of schools on the 28th of July this year.

Prior to the reopening of schools, the government is supposed to test over 136 000 teachers and ensure that schools comply to the 1:20 teacher, pupil ratio as per the World Health Organization (WHO) regulations.

With over 4.6 million learners expected to go back to school, the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ) has said there is no urgency to reopen schools.

“Schools must not reopen now, it’s still winter time. The academic year can simply be forwarded to next year,” said Nation Muzvidziwa, ARTUZ’s spokesperson.

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Dr. Takavafira Zhou, president of the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) also pointed out that the reopening of schools was not feasible.

“Schools can only open on the 28th of July subject to Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education meeting WHO standards in their entirety, but to assume that the government which has tested only 65 000 people since March can test 4.6 million students, 136 000 teachers and 50 000 ancillary staff in 26 days is to hope for a miracle to happen and it’s impossible.

Worse still, government that is supposed to employ an additional 50 000 teachers and improve infrastructure in schools in order to guarantee social distancing and teacher-pupil ratio of 1:20 has not done anything so far.

Moreover, we are witnessing a quantum leap of COVID-19 cases in Zimbabwe and it would be suicidal and genocidal to open schools without COVID-19 abatement equipment such as testing kits, thermometers, sanitizers, PPEs, let alone training of teachers on how best to respond to the pandemic and health officials stationed in schools, as well as cleaning and disinfection of schools currently used as COVID-19 quarantine centres for returnees,” said the leader of PTUZ.

Dr. Zhou further highlighted that their members will not be going back to work if government fails to meet WHO COVID-19 guidelines.

“Teachers can never be willing to go back when their health, safety and welfare are not prioritised. Other than threats over their health and safety, teachers have a dispute of right which the employer is failing to address. Their salary was unilaterally and callously culled by the employer from US$550 to US$26. Teachers therefore, want the employer to restore their salary’s purchasing power parity, let alone pay a reasonable risk allowance of US$150,” said Dr.Zhou.

However, James Maiden the chief of communications at the country’s United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) said schools should go ahead and reopen provided they meet the COVID-19 regulations.

“Children and schools are not the main drivers of the epidemic across countries, and there is no known evidence of the correlation between the rate of disease transmission and whether or not schools remain open or closed. Evidence on the negative impacts of school closures is overwhelming, with long-term implications for children’s learning, safety, health and wellbeing.

We know that the longer children stay out of school, the more exposed they are to dangers. This is especially true for children who are already vulnerable. We are calling for schools to be among the first services to open when the appropriate safety measures are put into place,” said Maiden.