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Schools reopen amid Covid-19, teacher strike threat

Schools opened for examination classes this Monday, amid indications that most teachers did not turn up for work due to incapacitation.

Last week the government announced that exam classes could resume on August 30 while the rest of the other classes can start on September 6, 2021, under new relaxed Covid-19 measures.

Director of Communications and Advocacy in the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, Taungana Ndoro, said the ministry was yet to receive information of how many teachers turned up for duty on the opening day.

However, Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) president, Dr Takavafira Zhou, claimed teachers would not be reporting for work.

“It is because teachers are grossly incapacitated and have tested positive to poverty. Teachers have a human heart and pride in making sure that meaningful learning and teaching occur in schools, let alone passing of their students. Sadly, they need vaccination against poverty, and prioritisation of their health and safety, let alone that of their students,” he said.

The PTUZ leader appealed to the government to come up with a more constructive approach, permeable to reason and facts.

“Government must urgently offer teachers a rescue package that can take them to the next payday. However, by the end of a time framed short period, the government can commit itself to provide a panacea to teachers’ legitimate concern over restoration of the purchasing power parity of their salaries. Without such an envisaged rescue package it will be mission impossible for many teachers to report for work,” he said.

“Teachers’ incapacitation is real and the government must bail out teachers. To the 140 000 teachers, we want to reiterate that, as leadership, we have conveyed your legitimate demands and concerns to the Public Service Commission, line Ministry, Ministry of Finance and Economic Development and President of the country.

“We have also knocked at the doors of parliamentarians with petitions and parliamentarians are well acquainted with teachers’ challenges and have given positive recommendations to the government. All the same, teachers cannot be capacitated by recommendations but pragmatic and realistic action.”

Dr Zhou asked parents to amplify their voices as well over the challenges affecting the country’s education system particularly teachers’ welfare, their health and safety plus that of students.

“To the parents we recognise you as an important stakeholder in the education sector, and many of us are parents too, with some earning as little as $21000 this month, we wonder how the government expects us to pay school fees as high as $62 000 in government schools this term,” said the PTUZ president.

“The ball is, therefore, in government hands to positively intervene, engage teacher unions, pay a rescue package and make sure the opening of schools is successful. Without this swift intervention, 2021 may fast become an academically wasted year.”

In an interview with CITE, a headmaster of a local school, who refused to be identified for ethical reasons, said the government should at least give both teachers and parents two weeks to prepare.

“The whole move is stupid actually and does not come from intelligent technocrats. Parents, children, teachers are not prepared plus there is high teacher incapacitation,” said the headmaster.

“We do not have Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) but have malfunctioning thermometers and only half of the teachers are vaccinated. Those who are not vaccinated have various reasons why they are not and some don’t want to vaccinate.”

The headmaster concurred the government should have provided a ‘meaningful’ rescue package to enable teachers to report for work pending further capacitation.

“We ask that the government and relevant education ministry capacitate teachers, capacitate schools with PPE, vaccinate learners, psych up parents with at least a two week preparations, work at reducing teacher: learner ratio at 1:20 and importantly pay teachers a humane salary, at least US$540 for the lowest paid,” said the head.

Meanwhile, some parents have also indicated they were not ready to send their children to schools, as they were not given enough time to prepare, raise funds and buy essentials considering the country was still under Level 4 lockdown.

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