Safe Schools Opening Position Paper

Background

The year 2020 redefined society in a huge way because of the novel Corona Virus. The education sector was severely affected by this pandemic not just in Zimbabwe but globally.

The Zimbabwean education sector was heavily impacted by the Covid-19 induced lockdown. Our education sector was hard hit because prior to Covid-19 it had its own already existing challenges due to years of neglect.

A February 2021 OCHA Zimbabwe Cluster status on Education notes that the education system in Zimbabwe was already stretched before the Covid-19 pandemic because of multiple crises that included the chronic economic crisis, humanitarian crisis (Cyclone Idai and food insecurity) as well as continuous job actions and demonstrations by teachers over poor salaries.

According to UNICEF, only a third of schools in Zimbabwe are in good condition, access to quality public education remains a challenge due to physical closure of schools and the Zimbabwe education remain has become largely privatized. This all serves as an indicator of how the quality of education has fallen.

The Government of Zimbabwe (GoZ) gave a directive on the physical closure of schools as part of a national Covid-19 induced lockdown on 24 March 2020. Schools suffered a 6-month closure and learners lost out on valuable learning time in 2020. The conversation now became about how students would continue with learning in their homes and several alternative ways of learning were introduced such as online learning and broadcast media. However, only those privileged enough and well-resourced to be in private schools managed to quickly adapt through online learning platforms whereas public schools remained on a complete shutdown.

Schools officially opened on 28 September 2020 in a phased approach beginning with exam classes because of the need to decongest schools especially in public schools where infrastructure is limited and the teacher per student ratio is high. This decision was arrived at without adequate wider consultation as recommended by the UNICEF framework for safe re-opening of schools that advocates for multisectoral consultations. This led to unintended consequences such as teacher absenteeism. Learning did not take place during this time as teachers were incapacitated to travel to their respective schools.

At the time of writing this policy analysis, teachers are receiving a monthly salary of ZWL17 000 at a time when the Total Consumption Poverty Level, TCPL for an individual stands at ZWL4, 987,00 per month according to the ZimStats January 2021 report. For an average family of six, this translates to ZWL 29, 922, 00 per month. Teachers are therefore living in abject poverty

The Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe, ARTUZ launched a Covid-19 monitoring platform where teachers would report on the preparedness of their schools in receiving students and school staff back into schools, a total of 20 education districts participated in the survey. Two districts were picked from each of the ten administration districts. A total of twenty schools participated per district. The average compliance to government set Standard Operating Procedures, SOPs stood at 30 percent.

As the schools are at the verge of re-opening as per the government’s announcement onthe 2nd of March 2021, what remains important is to ensure that key issues highlighted above are dealt with head-on so that we avoid the errors of 2020 as explained above.

ARTUZ, consulted teacher unions, students’ unions, schools development associations and the passengers association of Zimbabwe and came up with the following findings.

Read the full report here (256KB PDF)

Source: Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe

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