PPE for Schools: Government Accused of Abdicating Responsibility

Despite funding reportedly availed to ensure adequate PPE for learners and teachers, parents continue to bear the brunt of the costs while the government says it has made enough provisions.

After a prolonged school closure, learners eventually returned to class on August 30, starting with final year examination students. Non-examination classes joined a week later. Before schools opened, the government announced a ZWL$500 million to fund the safe reopening of schools to ensure they are compliant with COVID-19 protocols to protect learners and educators.

In 2020, the government said it availed $600 million for disbursement to schools under the SOP’s to improve sanitation and enable them to reopen safely. Under the exercise, widely known as the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), authorities said the money would be used to, among others, improve sanitation and purchase Protective Clothing Equipment (PPEs) for learners and teachers.

However, an investigation by this publication shows that the majority of government schools in Bulawayo have sent notices to parents and guardians to purchase PPEs, raising questions on how the ZWL$500million has been utilised.

“In total, I think I have to part with US$10 to buy the required PPEs for my son and daughter who are at different government schools,” says Priscilla Mthethwa, a parent.

Teacher unions have since raised a red flag on governments’ commitment to fund the SOPs, arguing the ZWL$500 million is not only inadequate while questioning its availability.

“To begin with, that money is not adequate. Our calculations show that the money translates to ZW$ 100 per learner or almost US0.75 cents,” Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (Artuz) president Obert Masaraure says.

“And most importantly, the little that was supposed to benefit schools has not reached any school according to our investigations. They have not been delivered. We haven’t seen anything.”

An investigation by this publication reveals that required PPE fees from parents are not uniform at certain schools but differ from one class to the next from as low as US$2 to US$10 per child.

The SOP’s seek to enforce consistent and proper wearing of clean masks, physical and social distancing, regular and correct hand-washing of hands.

Sports activities are also banned; hot-seating is discouraged while a maximum of 35 learners per class and frequent disinfection of classrooms is encouraged.

In a letter dated August 28 addressed to the minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Paul Mavhima and copied to the Public Service Commission (PSC), Finance and Primary and Secondary Education ministries respectively, the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) also question government’s commitment to fund SOPs.

In the letter, PTUZ secretary-general Raymond Majongwe accuses the government of abdicating its responsibility to equally ‘suffering’ parents and guardians.

“There is no prioritisation of teachers and pupils’ health and safety through the provision of adequate PPEs in schools. The government has since abdicated this responsibility to parents and schools who are also struggling,” says Majongwe.

Primary and Education spokesperson Taungana Ndoro in an interview with The Citizen Bulletin, claimed schools that have not received any SOP funding are not ‘active’ in the administration system.

“Those that have not seen funding for SOPs are not active within the school administration system; otherwise, every school as mentioned has received SOP funding,” Ndoro on 14 September said.

Ndoro insisted that ZWL$500 million is enough for government, local and non-for-profit missions schools. “The imagination that it translates to $100 per learner is not only sad but unfortunate. Parents have only been requested to fund masks for their kids and make masks part of the school uniform; otherwise, all other PPE are government-funded, and here I am talking about sanitisers, fumigators, thermometers etc.”

In August, the government received US$961 million allocated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in the form of drawing rights and teacher unions have been calling on authorities to channel some of the funds to the education sector to fund the SOPs and their salaries.

“Government should deploy enough resources to ensure a safe learning environment. We have also said the government should also channel a huge chunk of $463milllion received from UNESCO to the education sector, but we are not receiving a favourable response,” Masaraure noted.

Masaraure argues their demands align with the Dakar Declaration and Incheon Declaration for Education (2015). Zimbabwe is a signatory that mandates governments to spend at least 4 to 6% of national Gross Domestic Product (GDP) towards education.

Source: The Citizen Bulletin

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