Not by a long chalk 

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By Black Edward

NORMALLY, the opening of schools in a new year triggers keen anticipation and is a memorable occasion. It means a new grade, a new form and another level for the learner.

And those tears of joy when parents wave to their children as they enter school gates, Kodak moments indeed! Hey, not this year — not by a long chalk.

I’ve no doubt most learners, parents, guardians and teachers are breathing a sigh of relief now that the government has deferred the opening of schools.

Not all of them would have afforded the steep school fees required in a short space of time soon after a holiday, coming hard on the heels of a tough Covid-19-ravaged year where most forms of income were impaled by the subsequent lockdown.

The opening of schools has been, understandably, postponed in light of the surge in corona infections as well as the danger that was initially expected from Cyclone Chalane.

Strangely, examination classes will resume on Tuesday and this makes parents and guardians cry for an explanation and assurance. But assurance from whom?

The parents’ cry awakens my memories of two top-notch teachers.

Once in a while, an educationist engages the heart and soul of a community in a way more profound than textbooks. Such was the case with the late two educationists Robert Kamanga and Emmanuel Mbirimi, who were stars inside and outside the classrooms. Had they been with us today, some parents, guardians, learners and even other teachers would have hounded them for an explanation and sound advice.

 

Emmanuel Mbirimi
Robert Kamanga

 

This is the time we want to feel the presence of selfless teachers, hear the convictions in their voices and see the sparks in their eyes as they assure us that everything will be all right, provided it’s going to be all right. Mbirimi and Kamanga could do that very well — explaining and offering impartial advice.

 

 

Parents are worried. They are aware that some schools are still battling to adhere to the Covid-19 protocols and may not be fully prepared to accommodate exam classes or conduct lessons. World Health Organisation guidelines are not being followed. What makes it even worse are reports of the new variant of Covid-19 that has resulted in a massive surge in infections and is said to be targeting the younger generation.

Teachers themselves have been striking over lack of PPE among other complaints — so parents should indeed be worried.

Also, examinations are going on despite the fact that most students are still ill-prepared. There have been reports in the media of Zimsec examination papers being stolen. And also reports of some schools being hit by bullying scandals and rampant abuse of students with police being called in for investigations.

A parent said: “It’s painful to see the education of my children being negatively affected especially by uncertainties with regards to opening of schools and some being forced to write exams when it is crystal clear they are ill-prepared.

“But deferring the opening of schools is the best foot forward, considering that besides mere cheap talk and propaganda, the government is doing very little to protect learners and teachers from the pandemic.

“Coronavirus is ravaging other countries and unless there is robust government intervention, any surge in local infections will spell disaster as our health delivery system is as good as dead right now.”

Well, back to Kamanga and Mbirimi: Getting to know them, you would notice their determination and passion.

 

They were important influencers in their respective schools and communities. Both were educational hybrids: multi-talented but sensitive to students’ rights and parents’ concerns.

Look, this is not saying we don’t have the likes of Mbirimi and Kamanga in schools anymore. Not at all! In fact we see you and we appreciate what you are doing. Continue standing firm and do not allow anything to sway you. 

Yes of course, the system let Mbirimi and Kamanga down in a way. They served a system that was blind to their worth, a system that failed to reward competency, a system that disregarded facts on the ground. As a result, the full potential of Mbirimi and Kamanga was never fully utilised. 

However, they were not doing it for the system. They were doing it for themselves, for students, for the community and ultimately for the country.

When Kamanga suffered a stroke during a health workers’ strike, a doctor — who was his former student — sacrificed all to attend to him regularly while bedridden at home.

The passing on of Mbirimi and Kamanga indeed left the education sector poorer. They would have been a huge source of guidance and inspiration for both learners and their parents amid all this confusion and uncertainty.

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