‘Govt will close schools if unsafe’  

Sindiso Mhlophe
PRIMARY and Secondary Education minister Cain Mathema has insisted that schools are ready to reopen, saying if there is a resurgence of the lethal coronavirus (Covid-19), the government will not hesitate to close them.
This comes as various stakeholders have slammed the government over its decision to reopen schools, citing inadequate provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect learners and teachers from the virus and poor salaries and working conditions for educators.
Giving a ministerial statement in the National Assembly yesterday, Mathema said from the research and multi-stakeholder consultations that were conducted, the reopening of schools was safe for now
“The coronavirus is not only in Zimbabwe, it’s a new ailment all over the world. We will work according to what is on the ground as days go by, so we do the best we can.
“Who knows, we might have to close schools again because of how serious it (coronavirus) will have become. So, we will work according to what is on the ground and in terms of the PPE, you can rest assured that the government will avail. Closing schools is not something new, we have already done it before so if the situation changes, we will close them,” Mathema said.
“The reopening of schools is a subject which has not received consensus, either here in Zimbabwe or globally.
“But for any nation to get a perfect situation when the virus is completely eradicated may mean that we wait forever. Research has shown that the longer learners stay out of school, the more the chances that a significant number will lose what they have gained.
“Statistics from the past two days show that a significant number of students have lost their educational gains. Such a regression is at a danger of exacerbating if learners continue being out of school,” Mathema added.
He said in preparation of the reopening of schools, the government had procured PPE for 8 500 schools out of 9 625, set up social distance markers in schools, trained learners on the new normal and availed standard operating procedures.
Mathema indicated that there was a low turnout of teachers under phase one of the reopening of schools that started on Monday, as the educators were protesting against poor remuneration and conditions of service.
He, however, added that his ministry had 20 000 unemployed teachers who could be employed to cover the gap of those not reporting to work.
“Most teachers have not reported to work as we expected. The issue has to do with salaries and that responsibility belongs to the ministry of Labour.
“That does not mean that my ministry or the government is not aware that teachers are in need of better remuneration and working conditions. The government, ministry of Labour and the Public Service Commission are currently engaging teachers’ unions over this matter.
“As for the 20 000 teachers that I have mentioned here, I — as the minister — have to make sure I find ways and means to make sure that teachers go to school. This is not only the norm in the education sector, students have to continue going to school,” Mathema said.
Meanwhile, in a joint statement, teachers’ unions said their incapacitation action started on a high note and has since escalated to higher levels since September 28 with more than 100 000 teachers joining the industrial action.
“There is no meaningful teaching and learning taking place in schools because the few teachers who decided to report for duty have adopted the clock-in, sit-in or walk-out style due to fear of victimisation.
“The government is lying to the world that they have done everything to protect the teachers and learners against Covid-19.
“There are not enough PPE provided by the government. Schools are yet to receive the Covid-19 abatement equipment.
“No testing of teachers and learners for Covid-19 was done.
“Teachers and learners were made to congregate without ascertaining if they were Covid-19-free,” read the statement.

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