“We May Have No Alternative”: Mathema Warns Teachers
2 October 2020
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By A Correspondent- Education minister Cain Mathema has warned teachers that they risk being replaced over failure to report for duty.

Presenting a ministerial statement before parliament, Mathema said schools opening was characterised by low teachers turn out, adding that government may be forced to employ the over 20 000 qualified but unemployed teachers to cater for the learners’ needs.

Below is the full ministerial statement by Mathema:

Thank you Mr. Speaker Sir.  As the nation is now aware, Government made the decision to re-open schools for the 2020 examination classes on 14th September, 2020 for schools writing Cambridge examinations and on 28th September, 2020 for schools writing Zimsec examinations.  The decision was made following the expert assessment of the improving situation with respect to the national efforts to combat Covid 19.  

May I take this opportunity to thank His Excellency, the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe, Cde. E.D. Mnangagwa for leading the national efforts with foresight, courage and determination. 

May I also commend Hon. Members for your contribution in the fight against this deadly pandemic as well as the education sector which has also made a significant contribution.  

We are all aware that almost all countries went into lockdown in various valiant efforts to eradicate the Coronavirus pandemic.  Nations have gradually started to ease restrictions.  It is true that no nation can remain in lockdown forever.  

While we are witnessing some improvement in COVID 19 pandemic situation in Zimbabwe, I would like to hasten to add that the situation of low risk does not mean no risk.  We all need to maintain utmost vigilance in order to protect each other.  We remain most conscious that we need to do everything possible as a nation to protect our leaders, teachers and school communities. 

As you are no doubt aware Hon. Members, schools offering Cambridge and Zimsec examinations re-opened for the 2020 examination classes on 14th September, 2020 and 28th September, 2020 respectively. 

 Prior to the re-opening, Government and the Ministry made sure that safe and secure an environment as possible was created in the schools.  Among the measures undertaken include the following:

         i.            The development and distribution of the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), which clearly guide the school management, learners and school parents assemblies on the dos and don’ts with respect to efforts to combat the Coronavirus; 

      ii.            The development and distribution of the Secretary’s Circular Number 10 of 2020 which articulates the SOPs, as well as key inputs and processes that must obtain at each school on a daily basis;

   iii.            Procurement by Government of Personal Protective Equipment for 8500 schools out of 9625 schools.  Those supported are Government schools, council schools and not for profit mission schools;

   iv.            The setting up of social distance markers at each school covering all areas where learners gather;

      v.            The training of all teachers before they can begin teaching and learning.  This was done in collaboration with the Minister of Health and Child Care.  Training was interrupted by the lockdown but it went through;

   vi.            The training of all learners on the first day at school so that they appreciate how they should conduct themselves in the new norm;

vii.            The setting up at each school of temporary holding bays for learners who fall sick; and

viii.            The deployment of information, education and communication materials on COVID 19 among others.

Mr. Speaker Sir, any school that has some essential PPEs outstanding was required to defer opening until all the essentials were in place.  As you are also aware, the re-opening of schools is not a subject that has received 100% consensus, either here in Zimbabwe or globally but for any nation to wait for a perfect situation when the virus is completely eradicated may mean waiting forever. 

 We are learning and we will establish the accurate figures when all learners return to school.  Some of our learners have since fallen pregnant, while others have joined various economic activities during the period of the lockdown. 

Studies have shown that the longer the learners stay out of school, the more the chances that a significant number will be lost to education.  From a few experiences of the past two days, even among those who returned to school, a significant number have lost some of the education gains that they had achieved.  

Such regression has the danger of exacerbating should the learners continue to miss school for too long a period. 

Attendance on the opening day for the schools offering Cambridge examinations was high for both teachers and learners.  The situation for the re-opening of schools on Monday, 28th September, 2020 was characterised by a high turnout for learners and a low turnout for teachers.  

The situation improved slightly on the second day and we are hoping that teachers will return to work while any grievances that they may have get addressed through the right channels.  We understand some teachers have cited incapacitation but a teacher cannot have received his or her salary and be unable to report to work even on the first day. 

 Where will be the rationale for Government to continue paying an employee who is giving no service at all?  I would like to urge teachers to reflect and ensure that we find each other. Currently, there are over 20 000 qualified teachers who are looking for work and hundreds of thousands of learners who are looking for teachers.  Government may have no alternative other than to ensure that the learners are supported with teachers so that they are ready for examinations whose dates have now been determined, that is the first of December 2020 to the 26th January 2021. 

          In conclusion, I recognise that while education is a key foundation for the lives of our children, our first responsibility is to save life and we therefore, all need to work together to ensure that we protect our children, teachers and communities from this Coronavirus.  I thank you.