Zimbabwe: Parly Committee Against Schools Reopening

Schools are not ready to reopen for public examinations scheduled for the end of this month, a Parliamentary committee has said.

The Zimbabwe School Examinations Council (Zimsec) recently set June 30 as the provisional start date for the Ordinary and Advanced Level June examinations.

Parliamentarians rejected plans to re-open the schools early, while debating a report presented by Ms Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga (MDC-T proportional representative), the chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Primary and Secondary Education on re-opening of schools in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.

She said the interactions her committee had with various stakeholders showed that the country was not ready for the re-opening of schools.

Ms Misihairabwi-Mushonga said the parent ministry needed more money to provide all schools with water and other requirements, while teacher unions had been worried over their safety of pupils and teachers.

"All these stakeholders said we cannot proceed to re-open because the basics like running water, personal protective equipment and basic screening equipment that are needed for that and are not there," Ms Misihairabwi-Mushonga said.

She also said countries like South Africa and South Korea that had re-opened schools had to close after a spike in infections.

Cde Johnson Madhuku (Zanu PF Bikita-East) also echoed similar sentiments saying with the rising figures of infections it was premature to re-open schools.

"Most schools have no facilities for social distancing especially dormitories in boarding schools. There are also other logistical arrangements like transport that have to be put in place to enable schools to re-open," Cde Madhuku said.

Kambuzuma representative Mr Willas Madzimure (MDC-Alliance) said some families had relocated to their rural areas at the onset of the pandemic and were having challenges coming back.

"Even the consultations that I have done in my constituency show that people are not ready for schools to re-open," she said.

Ms Muchaneta Muchenje (MDC-Alliance Proportional Representative) said it was difficult to monitor that schoolchildren were adhering to required social distancing guidelines.

Cde Robson Nyathi (Zanu PF- Shurugwi North) said there was no need to experiment with pupils lives, as lives lost could not be restored. Teachers' unions who spoke to The Herald said their members will not avail themselves to invigilate public examinations in four weeks. Zimbabwe Teachers Association (ZIMTA) through their information officer Ms Daisy Zambuko described the announcement of dates as sad.

"We are in the process of advising teachers not to risk their lives through participating in an exercise that does not guarantee their safety or health," said Ms Zambuko.

Chief executive of the Zimbabwe national Teachers Union (ZINATU) Mr Manuel Nyawo equated invigilating to experimenting with death.

"Our members are pleading with us as the leadership of the union to reach out to Zimsec on their behalf and tell them in no uncertain terms that they are neither willing nor motivated to go into the jaws of Covid-19 for unpaid invigilation and free service," Nyawo said.

ZINATU encouraged Zimsec to seek invigilation services elsewhere if they were not willing to reconsider their position on June exams. Besides safety concerns, which were present in all the unions' communication, unions also raised an issue over outstanding invigilation fees.

Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe spokesperson Robson Chere said they were owed by Zimsec.

"Zimsec is frustrating our teachers. Some of our teachers are still being owed invigilation fees from June and November 2019 exams. That needs to be addressed, on top of the safety issues, which we are not compromising on," Chere said.

Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe programmes officer Mr Ladistous Zunde said: "We are in consultations with the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, but it appears they are going ahead with their planning.

"Our teachers are professionals. There is the issue of remuneration, our money is losing its value daily and teachers are demotivated by being put to risk without incentives, which is unfair."

Government said it would continue to engage teachers before examinations begin on the slated dates.

Deputy Minister Primary and Secondary Education Edgar Moyo said unions must not use threats.

"In my view, we have about 24 days in terms of preparation; we are moving around ensuring that everything is in place before exams begin.

Deputy Minister Moyo said dates were meant to provide a timeline within which things had to put in order.

His ministry will continue consulting teachers to reach a mutually agreement, he added.

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