By Mashudu Netsianda
Private schools reopened yesterday for the Cambridge examination classes with the generality of them adhering to the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education’s mandatory Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) as part of the new normal.
The Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education last week released the SOP in response to Covid-19 to ensure compliance to World Health Organisation and Ministry of Health and Child Care coronavirus prevention regulations.
The SOP was designed specifically to guide schools on reopening. According to the document, break and lunch time have been staggered to prevent crowding by learners while sporting activities have also been banned.
Schools are now required to keep records for teachers and pupils with underlying conditions without stigmatising them.
A maximum of 35 pupils are allowed in a single classroom as learners and teachers will be required to maintain a physical or social distance of one metre in the school premises.
Teachers and learners are no longer allowed to hug each other, shake hands or share desks as they used to.
It is also a requirement for temperature checks to be conducted with schools now mandated to have temporary isolation rooms for those found with high temperatures, before they are referred to heath facilities.
Due to the fact that Cambridge examinations are set internationally by a British-based board, Cabinet resolved that the classes should reopen earlier.
Zimbabwe School Examinations Council (Zimsec) examination classes are set to open on September 28 with the exams starting on December 1.
Government early this month announced the reopening of examination classes for both Zimsec and Cambridge examination classes and subsequently distributed standard operating procedures to all schools.
The Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education is working closely with other ministries and stakeholders to guarantee the safety of pupils and staff during the examinations period. The SOP states that no visitor will be allowed in schools except essential service providers.
Physical distancing of at least one metre will be adhered to by both teachers and learners while minimising sharing of education stationery including textbooks.
Schools were closed late in March ahead of the initial 21-day national lockdown, but reopened briefly for June examinations.
A Chronicle new crew yesterday visited selected independent and private schools in Bulawayo and observed that the SOP among other health guidelines was being adhered to.
Chronicle could however, not access the classrooms at the schools as authorities barred the new crew citing standing health regulations.
Girls College headmistress Ms Les Ross said 154 pupils who are set to write both Ordinary and Advanced level examinations attended classes with each class having at most 30 pupils.
“The issue of safety for both learners and staff comes first hence prior to the reopening of schools, the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education and health officials inspected our school. Our staff are being trained on Covid-19 health guidelines; we also have isolation rooms. Lots of our pupils are back and today we had a total of 154 girls with each class having not more than 30 pupils,” she said.
Ms Ross said as part of the SOP, surfaces such as doors, walls and floors, door frames and handles, desks, light switches will be frequently disinfected to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
At Dominican Convent High School, the news crew observed pupils having their temperature checked and sanitising their hands at the gate. All the pupils were wearing their masks. Sources at the school said each class had about 20 pupils with the least having 14 learners.
“There is a new normal at our school. We are no longer sharing desks and the number of pupils per class has been reduced to not more than 20 unlike in the past where a classroom would have 30 pupils,” said the source.
“School authorities are very strict when it comes to issues to do with social distancing and wearing face masks. We are not even allowed to shake hands or hug each other.”
At Christian Brothers College, the school has pitched a tent by the gate where temperature checks and hand sanitising is conducted for both learners and staff.
The tent also serves as a temporary isolation centre in the event of Covid-19 cases being recorded at the school.
Primary and Secondary Education Deputy Minister Edgar Moyo said the ministry was yet to receive a detailed report following the reopening of schools yesterday. He, however, said he was optimistic that private schools adhered to the health regulations by virtue of being well resourced.
“Generally, private schools are well resourced unlike public schools hence they are not likely to face any problems in terms of adhering to the health guidelines. However, so far, we haven’t received any report of mishaps, but by tomorrow we will be able to give a true picture after getting returns from our structures,” he said. The Chronicle