Teachers against schools opening

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Cynthia Chitombi

The Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe is against government’s proposed opening of schools announcing that it would seek an interdict blocking the writing of June examinations and the opening dates.

The union is not pleased by the Zimbabwe Schools Examination Council decision to go ahead with the June examinations set for this month.

Government announced the phased reopening of primary and secondary schools starting on July 28 while ZIMSEC June examinations will still run from June 29 to July 22 this year.

Form Six, Form Four and Grade Seven classes will resume at the end of July with Lower Six, Form Three and Grade 6 pupils coming in three weeks later.

Other pupils will move back into their classrooms in three more phases.

Government received submissions from teachers’ unions, Parliament, trust schools and parents over the opening of schools forced to close under lockdown restrictions imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, the ARTUZ argues that government’s decision came without observing the conditions which were laid down by the executive and Parliament.

“On 29 May we made submissions to the Parliament Portfolio Committee on Education making recommendations on conditions that should be met for safe opening of school.

“Our recommendations were taken on board by committee as demonstrated by the motion moved for debate by committee Chairperson Hon Misihairambwi Mushongas on 4 June 2020,” the union said in a statement.

The ensuing debate was one-sided as all parliamentarians agreed that schools were to remain closed until safety measures had been established.

“It was therefore a shock for us when ZIMSEC announced dates for June examinations and we were further shocked when the Minister of Information announced dates for reopening of schools,” the union argued.

The ARTUZ had recommended that schools were to open only after the opening of churches, bars and weddings so as to assess the contagious effect of gatherings of more than 50 people.

They had also recommended the postponement of ZIMSEC June examinations until it is verifiably safer to write them and that they had to consider and assess the impact of returnees from High risk countries flocking back at the moment, both through official and illegal means.

ARTUZ also expressed concern over the safety of pupils and teachers who are to return to schools for examinations as they are at high risk of contracting the virus.

“Take cognizance of the effects of cold season we are entering as it quickens infection rates of this type of epidemic. Reduce teacher-pupil ratio to 1:20 through employing more teachers urgently,” it argued.

The teachers’ union is also demanding that teachers be paid an acceptable risk allowance and salaries resonating to their 2018 salaries of US$520 or its interbank equivalent to restore its purchasing power parity.

The ARTUZ said it was mobilizing for massive street protests by teachers and parents demanding salary review for their members.

“It is against this frustrating background that we will be forced to block both the opening of schools and the writing of June examinations.

“We are seeking an interdict from the courts to block both the writing of June examinations and the opening of schools on 28 July.”

Government, through Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Minister Monica Mutsvangwa, has, however, argued that there was enough time for recommended health measures to be put in place.

According to a government schedule examination classes would be the first group to go to school and these are Form Fours, Form Sixes and Grade Sevens.

This will be followed by a gradual roll-out with Phase Two following after three weeks with classes sitting for their examinations next year with all classes split into two.

Phase Three will see the rest of high school learners going to school while in primary, Grades Three, Four and Five also return to the classrooms.

Lower primary school classes are expected to return towards end of September where Grade One and Two learners will return to class.

Last to return will be tots in early childhood development class.

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