Schools across the country re-opened for examination classes on the 28th of September following a lengthy Covid-19 induced closure. Although schools offering Cambridge examinations re-opened on the 14th of September, the spotlight was on the public schools which had been closed since the 24th of March when the Covid-19 pandemic hit the country culminating in the declaration of a countrywide lockdown initially for twenty one days. The re-opening for examination classes, Phase one according to the new calendar, is meant to give the learners time for face to face lessons before ZIMSEC examinations commence on the 1st of December.
According to the new calendar, Phase Two will see learners sitting for examinations in 2021, that is Grade 6, Form 3 and Form 4, returning to school on the 26th of October while Phase 3 marks the return of the rest of the grades and forms (ECD-Grade 5 and Form 1-2) on the 9th of November with the closing slated for the 18th of December. Schools will open on the 4th of January for the 2021 academic year.
With new cases of the pandemic still being recorded in Zimbabwe, the Ministry has had to carefully plan for the re-opening of schools in a bid to control the spread of the pandemic and make schools safe for teaching and learning. As a result the Ministry, in conjunction with the Ministry of Health and Child Care (MoHCC) developed Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and an accompanying Secretary’s Circular No. 10 of 2020 which were dispatched to schools. The SOPs, which were developed in adherence to World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines on controlling the spread of the pandemic, offer heads of schools and all stakeholders a guideline on how to operate schools under the Covid-19 environment or the new normal.
For example, the SOPs stipulate basic requirements for a school to be allowed to re-open. These include adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face masks, liquid soap and sanitisers for learners and teachers, infra-red thermometer, hand washing stations at the entrance or other strategic places, fumigation or disinfection of the school premises, designation of a temporary holding bay, information education and communication (IEC) material around the school, physical distancing marking in classrooms and other places where learners assemble and evidence of linkage with a local health centre. Each school is also mandated by the SOPs to appoint a gender balanced team of school health coordinators whose duty is to manage minor health related cases at school level.
To enable reopening the government has released more than ZWL600 million for the procurement of PPE and other Covid-19 essentials. Part of the money is also earmarked for the drilling and rehabilitation of boreholes for schools facing critical shortage of water. Water is a prerequisite as it is, together with liquid soap, the first line of defence, according to the SOPs. The funds availed by government were also used for training of teachers and non-teaching staff in operating under the Covid-19 pandemic.
In an interview with ZBC, Permanent Secretary Mrs. Tumisang Thabela noted that a number of strategies will be adopted to cover for lost teaching and learning time. These included the use of time traditionally allocated for sporting and cultural activities for academic purposes, use of alternative learning strategies such as radio lessons and making available modules that had been developed for non-formal learners. She also pointed out that a Grade 7 study module had been developed and was in the process of being printed for distribution to the learners in preparation of their final examination.
“We are still consulting, but it should be noted that the number of days lost is not as bad as it is being portrayed.
“Obviously a number of strategies will be adopted to cover up for lost time considering we were not able to reach some of our learners through the alternative learning strategies we adopted. Schools will use time traditionally allocated for sporting and cultural activities for teaching and learning,” said Mrs. Thabela.
On the issue of satisfying requirements for physical distancing in schools in the wake of infrastructure constraints especially when the other classes return, the PS said that the idea of using tents was being explored while all schools would implement a roaster where classes attend school on alternate days with homework given for the days they would be away.