EARLIER this week parents woke up to news that they must help government with the provision of Personal Protective Clothing (PPE). The government said schools should prepare for re-opening.
Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa said parents and guardians will be required to help government in the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE). The country is currently under level 4 lockdown since the beginning of the month. According to official figures, the number of infections declined 49,5% from 21 346 cases to 14 275 during the week under review.
The level 4 lockdown measures were further extended to slow the spread of Covid-19. While the consideration to re-open schools is based on the slight decline in Covid-19 infections over the past week, the official figures might however be misleading as many of the cases are going unreported. The majority of Zimbabweans cannot afford the US$40-US$60 charged for testing by private laboratories.
No date was announced for the schools to re-open. Schools were supposed to open on June 28 after a one-month holiday. However, concerns have been raised by teachers, organisations in the health sector and civil society that re-opening of schools now would be premature.
This announcement, it seems, came without consultation with teachers’ unions or parents of the more than 3,5 million primary and secondary school learners.
The announcement by government was met with indignation by teachers’ unions and long-suffering parents, many of them struggling to get some sort of education for their children, with online classes proving to be beyond the reach of many. The digital divide has widened and there are many within our communities who cannot afford the basics let alone internet access.
Millions of already desperately poor families have been disproportionately impacted by Covid-19, with the virus said to have pushed nearly a million Zimbabwean children out of school. These dropout rates make a sad reading and have devastating consequences on the future of these children.
It may be possible for parents in rich countries to provide PPE for their children and teachers, but for the vast majority of Zimbabwean parents especially in rural, peri urban and poor resource settings it is just too much to ask.
We believe many people would like to see a safe re-opening of schools, one that limits the spread of the virus and gets our children back into schools. But government needs to be mindful of the struggles parents are going through.
There must be an agreed framework on the safe re-opening of schools that recognises the problems many families have faced in the past 15 months. Incomes have been decimated, our way of life has changed and millions face food insecurity. How then can people in this position be expected to afford PPE?
There has been no clarity from government about how they expect parents to “complement government efforts to provide PPE and other essential requirements for learners” as stated by Mutsvangwa. Is this some kind of government plan to introduce some kind of stealth tax or sneak in a fee to pay for PPE?
It would also be unwise for the country to re-open when many cases are going unreported and deaths surpassed the 100 mark this week.
As president of the Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe Takavafira Zhou pointed out in our conversation yesterday, government’s consideration to re-open schools lacked scientific explanation in view of the escalation of Covid-19 infections in the country.
“The greatest challenge with government is self-pollination, command and control methods that are unproductive in the education sector. Positions informed by educational taxonomy and professional ethos are far better than haphazard meddling and muddling,” he said.
Zimbabwe must proceed extremely carefully or risk the infections getting out of control.