By Mutsa Makuvaza
TEACHERS have called on Government to postpone public exams set for October this year to next year January as there has been hardly any learning in schools, with radio lessons “shallow” and only reaching a small percentage of the candidates population.
This comes as UNICEF estimated last week that 40 per cent of all school-aged children across Eastern and Southern Africa are currently not in school due to COVID19-induced closures and pre-pandemic levels of out of school children.
Schools were supposed to open on 28 June after a one-month holiday, but rising COVID-19 cases forced Government to postpone by an initial two weeks, which has since been postponed again. The earliest schools can open is 10 August, as the latest statutory instrument SI210 of 2021 gazetted last week extends the original closure for another two weeks.
In view of all the challenges in re-opening schools, leading teachers’ union, the Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ), urged Government to push the Zimbabwe Schools Examination Council (ZIMSEC) examinations set for October this year to at least January 2022.
“Six weeks after learners were supposed to have reopened, it’s still not clear when they will. We call on Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education to postpone the exams to January, at the least. These kids learned for only 3 months since last year. Radio and television lessons reach less than 10% of candidates,” said the PTUZ.
This, if it is heeded, will mean no examinations for the entire 2021 as the June examinations were also postponed to October amid lack of learning due to lockdown restrictions.
Another leading teacher’s body, the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ) which advocates for pro-poor education and labour justice for education workers, has begun online and WhatsApp classes but these are also limited in subjects range. Also, most students do not have smartphones or internet, or both, to be able to constantly follow the lessons.
But UNICEF wants Governments to re-open schools saying it fears an educational catastrophe if the lockdown-induced holidays are prolonged. However, UNICEF wants the schools re-opened in a safe manner the meets World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines something most Governments will not afford due to resources constraints.
“Although the number of children out of school constantly fluctuate depending on the local context, the fact that an estimated 40 per cent of the region’s children are out of school is shocking,” said Lieke van de Wiel, UNICEF Deputy Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa.
“We urge all Governments to prioritize education and ensure that schools remain open and safe. For the sake of the individual child, but also for the future of their communities and countries.
“Given that one-fifth of all school-aged children were already out of school pre-pandemic, there is no doubt that these continuing disruptions are further fuelling the world’s and the continent’s learning crisis which is heading towards becoming a learning catastrophe,” Ms. van de Wiel said.
With much of Africa in the throes of a new COVID-19 wave, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Uganda recently re-closed their schools nationwide, while Zimbabwe extended the academic winter break resulting in continued school closures, and Rwanda and Mozambique partially closed schools in some of the areas worst affected by the virus, while South Africa opened theirs this week following an extension of the winter break because of a COVID19 uptake.
UNICEF estimates that currently some 69 million children are out of school in the region, due to COVID-19 closures as well as a range of other factors, including inability of parents to pay school or transportation fees, child labour due to poverty, girls dropping out because of pressures to marry or inability to afford sanitary napkins during menstrual cycles, and access challenges for children with disabilities.
Some African children have had access to online learning, but millions have little or no access to the internet, computers or phones. In addition, going to school not only offers the basic learning needed to help break the cycle of poverty, it also provides protection from harmful practices such as early marriage, pregnancies, or abuse at home or on the streets, and can ensure a daily, nutritious meal.
“We have experienced a steep learning curve since the outbreak of the pandemic both in terms of keeping schools safe but also on how damaging it is for children and their communities when their classrooms are closed,” Ms. van de Wiel continued.
“The impacts of closures – both in the short and in the long term – are too vast to justify persisting with this approach. And on-line learning alone cannot substitute the overall benefits of children physically being in school, having fun and learning from friends. When containment measures are being discussed and agreed, schools must be the last to close and the first to open.” – Zimbabwe Voice