“Shut Down Schools”: Parliament Tells Govt
26 November 2020
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By A Correspondent- Parliament has recommended that the government immediately shuts down schools, blaming the rising COVID-19 cases on its failure to adequately prepare for the reopening of learning institutions after 57 pupils at Chinhoyi High School tested positive for the virus.

At All Souls Mission School in Mutoko, over 20 pupils are reportedly showing signs of the virus.

A Form 4 Chinhoyi High student tested positive for COVID-19 last Saturday and the cases ballooned to 57 yesterday.

“We have 57 COVID-19 cases at Chinhoyi High School and we continue to test more learners. We started testing pupils after a 17-year-old girl tested positive last week” provincial medical director Gift Masoja said yesterday.

“The examinations will continue but those who tested positive should write on their own the same applies with day scholars.”

Mashonaland West provincial education director Gabriel Mhuma added: “The school has been sealed off, no boarder will be allowed to leave the school and all day-scholars were told to stay at home as a precautionary measure.”

Although the Primary and Secondary Education ministry said it was yet to verify the cases in Mutoko, unconfirmed reports said day-scholars had been advised not to come to school while boarders were under quarantine until tests have been conducted.

Schools have become COVID-19 hotspots aided by the cramped environment and non-existent social distancing.

John Tallach, a mission school in Ntabazinduna near Bulawayo was shut down after reporting over 120 positive cases last week.

The number has since risen to 184.

Debating a report by the Parliamentary committee on Primary and Secondary Education chaired by Proportional Representation Member of Parliament Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga, the MPs said the government was ill-advised and acted prematurely to open schools and exposed children to the deadly virus.

Contributing to the debate, Sotherton MP Peter Moyo said schools should not have been opened in the first place and that the best way forward now was to close them to avoid a disaster.

“I hope the whole world agrees with what has been said here that schools were not supposed to be opened. We have opened schools and children who were COVID-19 positive and negative were put at the same place hence infecting the whole school,” Moyo said.

“What does this mean? It means that we made a mistake as a government. Schools were not supposed to have been opened before the necessary precautions to protect the children were taken. Only God knows whether these children will survive. Government should just close schools.”

Schools reopened on September 28 for examination classes in a phased process that saw the last group open on November 9.

Most schools, however, remained closed after teachers, who were on strike demanding a pay hike, failed to report for duty.

There have been concerns that students were not ready for examinations due to the COVID-19-induced schools’ closure and strike by teachers, but government insisted examinations should go ahead.

Moyo said schoolchildren should not write examinations because they were not prepared.

Misihairabwi-Mushonga, in her committee report, suggested examinations that were set for December 5, 2020 be moved to February since there were no adequate preparations due to the COVID-19-induced lockdown and the teachers’ strike.

The report was penned at the time teachers were on strike and there were reported incidents of wayward behaviour by the unsupervised students.

Beitbridge West MP Ruth Maboyi said Parliament should ensure all preparations for examinations should be for 2021 as schools were not adequately prepared to curb the spread of COVID-19.

“The COVID-19 lockdown started in March and we are expecting the students to be sitting for their exams. There is nothing like that. What type of examination is that?” she quizzed.

MDC-T PR MP Paurina Mpariwa said a disaster was looming in schools if children were allowed to continue attending classes.

“Firstly, the report says schools did not prepare for the coming back of schoolchildren. It is clearly seen that there was no preparation concerning the sanitisers, face masks and even the children do not understand the social distance issue,” she said, adding that the country was staring a disaster.

Government insists that adequate measures have been put in place in schools to curb the spread of COVID-19, but the situation on the ground indicates otherwise.

Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe secretary-general Raymond Majongwe took a swipe at government for failing to heed advice from teachers that schools should remain shut.