Teachers chide govt over ‘premature’ reopening of schools

Teachers associations have criticised the latest decision by the government to reopen schools, noting that a majority of learners are not ready to sit for examinations.

Schools in Zimbabwe were forced to close in March by President Emmerson Mnangagwa in a bid to prevent the spread of Coronavirus (Covid-19).

After announcing that schools would reopen in July, the government deferred the resumption of classes after a spike in Covid-19 cases.

Although some learners have been conducting online lessons, some have struggled, owing to exorbitant data prices, lack of compatible gadgets and unavailability of connectivity especially in rural areas.

The government on Monday, announced that schools will open for 14 September 2020 for Cambridge Examinations classes and 28 September 2020 for Zimsec Examination classes.

The Cabinet further announced that the Zimsec examinations will start on 1 December, 2020.

Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) president, Takavafira Zhou, told CITE in an interview that the government did not consult them in their latest decision.

Zhou noted there are several subjects which require learners to undertake practical lessons for them to be able to sit their final examinations but the government did not consider this.

“This latest announcement by the government is political expediency, which lacks professional advice. There are practical projects which learners missed for the better part of the year and without these it would be impossible for some examinations to be undertaken. We would have preferred if the government had engaged teachers’ associations for professional advice,” he said.

“It also lacks clarity. There is nothing on what will happen to non-examination classes, there is no closing date for the term. There is likely to be resistance from teachers. As a teachers’ union we would have recommended that we push the academic year of 2020 into 2021 while we prepare learners. At least if the year could be divided into two terms, we use the first part for preparation then the second part for examinations. Such issues need professional and strategic planning.”

Zhou noted that there are specific conditions which the government should meet and these include health and safety of both teachers and learners.

“There has to be mandatory testing of all school staff and learners who will be returning to schools. There is also need to review salaries of teachers to match October 2018 salaries where they were earning US$520-US$550 and this money has to be granted before schools reopen,” Zhou said.

Amalgamated Rural Teachers Association Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ) spokesperson Nation Mudzitirwa reiterated that both health safety and review of the remuneration of teachers should be assured before schools open.

Mudzitirwa said as a union they are not against the opening of schools but are against their premature opening.

“The government’s position to open schools on the 14th of September for Cambridge examination classes and 28th of September for Zimsec classes before teachers’ grievances are fully addressed is inconsiderate,” he said.

“As ARTUZ we are engaging stakeholders such as parents through the School Development Association/Committees to give us their view on this inconsiderate decision taken by the government. We are also engaging the health sector at provincial and district levels to assess the state and preparedness of hospitals in case of the outburst of COVID-19 in schools.”

Mudzitirwa said recommendations by the health sector will determine whether we can encourage our members to report for work.

“Safety of learners and teachers from COVID-19 must be fully guaranteed in schools. The government must first test all learners and teachers, provide PPEs, fumigate all learning facilities that were used as quarantine centres,” he said.

Mudzitirwa lamented that the cost of living is beyond the reach of every teacher as basic commodities are priced in United States Dollars at a time when teachers are paid in the local currency.

Source: Centre for Innovation and Technology (CITE)

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