A TOTAL of $600 million has been set aside by the Government for disbursement to needy schools to improve sanitation and enable them to reopen safely without risking a spike in Covid-19 infections.
This is part of a raft of measures, informed by World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines, that authorities have put in place ahead of the reopening of public examination classes on September 28. The money is targeted for allocation to schools in all the provinces, with priority being given to those with less capacity to ensure the safety of schoolchildren and staff.
Primary and Secondary Education Minister Ambassador Cain Mathema yesterday said the Government held a meeting with representatives of church-owned schools to ensure they were also in the game ahead of the resumption of classes.
Churches own a number of schools in the country and are key stakeholders in the education sector.
Those writing Cambridge examinations this year resumed classes yesterday, while those writing Zimbabwe School Examinations Council (Zimsec) examinations are expected to resume classes on September 28.
Representatives of church-owned schools told Minister Mathema that they were ready for the resumption of classes under WHO recommended guidelines to ensure the safety of students, teachers, supporting staff and other stakeholders.
Giving an insight of his meeting with representatives of church-owned schools, Minister Mathema said: “The Ministry of Finance and Economic Development availed $600 million for schools to re-open safely, and there have been issues of water shortages in schools. We are using that money to drill boreholes and in some instances provide water bowsers to make sure that water is available at all the schools. The money will also be used to buy things like PPEs (Personal Protective Equipment), thermometers, sanitisers.
“We are working with the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement, and Zinwa (Zimbabwe National Water Authority) to ensure the availability of water at all the schools. Today (yesterday) I met representatives of church-owned schools, they declared readiness to open the schools and they are happy the measures put in place can be met. We need to work together as a team to ensure that the environment is safe and conducive for schools reopening, we have been working with the Ministry of Health and Child Care, listening to WHO guidelines to open in a safe environment.”
Minister Mathema said closing schools indefinitely was not a solution, but insisted safe measures to reopen safely needed to be put in place.
“The issue of closing schools indefinitely is not a solution, but what we need to do is to open schools in a safe environment for learners, teachers and all the staff involved.
“The issue of transportation, we are working with ZUPCO to transport teachers and learners where buses are needed. We are doing the best we can for schools to reopen safely and we are following the WHO guidelines. Everyone from the Ministry of Health, us and even you the media, we all monitor adherence,” he said.
The minister said June exams were conducted successfully without any problems and the Government expected a similar outcome in the second round of public exams scheduled for December.
School heads recently declared readiness to resume classes, saying the pilot project to start with exam classes would be simple.
In keeping with social distancing rules, classes would be broken into smaller groups handled by additional teachers already employed at schools, while examinations would be taken from more classrooms and spacious halls to minimise chances of spreading the virus.
Dr Tapera Chikandiwa, director of Higher Achievers School said they reopened safely yesterday after inviting health authorities to monitor adherence to requirements and guidelines.
“We have opened under a safe environment for students and teachers. We were told what we need to do for the safety of students and teachers and after completing that, we invited a local clinic to monitor and we were given the green light to open. Teachers are raring to go and prepare students for examinations,” said Dr Chikandiwa.
The director for Samuel Centenary Academy in Harare Mr Edward Sungayi said: “We have opened and we did not have any problem. We expect everything to be smooth. We have manufactured sanitisers and bought protective equipment to ensure safety for students and teachers and we are now ready to prepare students for examinations,” he said.
In Bulawayo, Girls College headmistress Ms Les Ross said 154 pupils who were set to write both Ordinary and Advanced level examinations attended classes with each class having 30 pupils at most.
“The issue of safety for both learners and staff comes first hence prior to the reopening of schools, the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education and health officials inspected our school. Our staff are being trained on Covid-19 health guidelines; we also have isolation rooms. Lots of our pupils are back and today we had a total of 154 girls with each class having not more than 30 pupils,” she said.
Ms Ross said as part of the standard operating procedures, surfaces such as doors, walls and floors, door frames and handles, desks, light switches would be frequently disinfected to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
At Dominican Convent High School, pupils had their temperature checked and hands sanitised at the gate while face masks were worn.
“There is a new normal at our school. We are no longer sharing desks and the number of pupils per class has been reduced to not more than 20 unlike in the past where a classroom would have 30 pupils.
“School authorities are very strict when it comes to issues to do with social distancing and wearing facemasks. We are not even allowed to shake hands or hug each other,” said one student who declined to be named.
At Christian Brothers College, the school has pitched a tent at the entrance gate where temperature checks and hand sanitising are conducted for both learners and staff.
The tent also serves as a temporary isolation centre in the event of Covid-19 cases being recorded at the school.