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‘Declare academic year null, void’

WITH the country’s school calendar severely affected by the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic and students failing to complete the first term, there are growing calls from various stakeholders to declare this academic year null and void, the Daily News on Sunday reports.

This comes as the government has deferred the re-opening of schools following a spike in local Covid-19 infections.

On Tuesday, Cabinet announced that the re-opening of schools, which was scheduled for July 28 for learners sitting public examinations this year, would be deferred until experts gave the green light. There is uncertainty about what impact this will have on the country’s education system.

Education experts who spoke to the Daily News on Sunday suggested that the government should completely void the academic year and prepare to start afresh after addressing the myriad challenges in the sector including dilapidated infrastructure at most schools, shortage of teachers, books and other necessities.

Educationist and former Churchill High School principal Levy Hombarume said it is prudent for authorities to pretend that 2020 never happened on account of the fact that schools will not be able to complete their syllabi.

“If one considers the time left now, a lot has been lost by learners that even if we were to reopen, which teacher would be able to cover the syllabus in a manner that will enable learners to take an examination? Will the Zimbabwe Schools Examination Council (Zimsec) set the examination only for the part of the syllabus that was covered up to the time schools were closed? I find it impossible hence it is my opinion that the calendar year be voided.

“In any case, do we even need to expose children when we are not yet sure that we have defeated Covid-19? Life is more important than education because when you lose life, you have lost everything but when you lose education you can recover,” Hombarume said.

Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) secretary general Raymond Majongwe weighed in, saying instead of rushing to reopen schools, the government should take advantage of the situation to improve the schools infrastructure that is in a sorry state, especially in the rural areas.

“They should take this as an opportunity to address challenges in the education sector. We have always complained about the school’s climate that is not conducive for teachers and learners with disability.

“We have challenges regarding the remuneration of teachers and the government should ensure that when we eventually come back everything is in place.

“Voiding an academic year is not a new thing. In 1976 schools closed due to war only to reopen in 1980 and those who had been disturbed managed to proceed and they are well to do people right now. We must just start afresh when the situation allows,” Majongwe said.

This comes as Primary and Secondary Education minister Cain Mathema, pictured, told Parliament last week that he was not aware when the schools would reopen. Responding to questions from MPs in the National Assembly on Wednesday on whether the Zimsec examinations will be written this year, Mathema said the government was in the dark.

“We had planned and indeed we were moving forward with the President’s directive that schools should be opened on the 28th of this month for those students who will be sitting for Grade 7, “O” and “A” levels examinations but because of what is happening this is what we have now.

“As to whether we are going to write examinations in November or not I do not know. Unfortunately I do not know who created Covid-19; I would have phoned him,” Mathema said.

Asked whether a learner intending to write Cambridge examinations will be allowed to register considering that the deadline has been set for July 31, Mathema said he is willing to listen to presentations from the schools concerned.

“The opening of schools has been deferred until further notice. We will communicate with the country as to when, depending on what we see on the ground; all of us by the way, not just the ministry. No school is allowed to open now but the June examinations are going on now. Any school that wants to have examinations in November, I have never closed my doors to receive presentations from any authority at all about their situation. However, as to whether the schools will be open in November — nobody knows because nobody created Covid-19, so we will work accordingly and everyone will be informed,” the minister said.

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