Schools should reopen when it is safe for pupils and teachers and in the meantime e-learning needs to be tailored so that children can benefit, chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Primary and Secondary Education, Mrs Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga, said yesterday.
She felt that e-learning needed to be available regardless of the Covid-19 pandemic, to help children who find it difficult or impossible to attend school.
Her committee was engaging the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education on the appropriate time to reopen schools for the second term, with the gazetted date being the second week of May.
Recommendations would be made to the ministry once all had been consulted.
Schools were closed on March 24, almost a week before the closing date, as a precaution against infection by Covid-19.
The Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe recently wrote to Government calling for a delay in the reopening of schools, with the union’s secretary general, Mr Raymond Majongwe, stating that reopening schools early could put learners, teachers and stakeholders at risk, and proposing mid-July.
Mrs Misihairabwi-Mushonga confirmed that teachers’ unions had proffered scientific reasons on why reopening of schools early was discouraged.
Stakeholders had been discussing other available options such as e-learning so that children continue to learn at home.
“At the moment, it is premature for anyone to take any position,” said Mrs Misihairabwi-Mushonga. “We should ensure there is safety for both the children and teachers. Parliament has not been sitting, but we are organising to meet with support from Unicef so we can have an oversight on the issue. Parliament committees should not stop because of Covid-19.
“The closure of schools came from the debate we had in Parliament with the ministry and it was felt that it was not safe for children. Let us have consultations.”
A number of people have raised concerns over e-learning, considering that pupils in remote areas may not access computers and other e-learning requirements, and some parents have said data costs are too high.
Many organisations have come up with e-learning platforms and recommendations will be made.
Expressing her opinions, Ms Misihairabwi-Mushonga said: “There are other gadgets that can be used for learning. Most people are thinking of e-learning considering platforms that involve use of videos whereby the teachers and students can see each other, but there are other basic learning opportunities available.
“With a simple gadget or phone that has WhatsApp, a parent can help the children follow through educational modules. We should also look at the opportunities brought by e-learning with or without Covid-19. If we invest in information technology, it will help children even those who have been walking long distances to school.”
Mrs Misihairabwi-Mushonga said some parents had passed responsibilities to nurseries and schools and were now faced with helping their children learn at home.
“Now we are going into winter and if we allow schools to open, what is likely to happen?
“We are also having a pilot project with girls who fall pregnant in schools.
“This girl is at home and wants to continue learning,” she said, in support of extending e-learning regardless of Covid-19 requirements.