By KETRA KALUNGA
OVER 30, 000 teachers in private schools have been left destitute after being placed on unpaid leave due to the closure of schools in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak.
Teachers’ associations and other stakeholders have called on the government to reopen schools because of the huge impact on the lives of private school teachers most of whom depend on tuition fees for survival.
Government however said it was still consulting on the possibilities of reopening schools.
Currently, only examination classes were opened after Government shut all schools amid Covid-19 fears in March.
The National Action for Quality Education in Zambia (NAQEZ) said the continued closure of private schools had badly affected the livelihoods of about 30, 000 teachers who have been left destitute.
NAQEZ executive director, Aaron Chansa said private schools were in a dilemma and needed to survive. Those that had adequate infrastructure should be allowed to re-open so that the many teachers who had been sent on forced leave and roaming the streets could be recalled.
Mr. Chanda said in an interview that it was important for Government to consider reopening private schools especially that they – “the government” – have not provided a financial bailout to private schools to make them afloat.
He said Government just had to put in place proper guidelines to avoid the spread of the virus.
Mr Chansa said the situation that the private school teachers were in was very ugly and needed the attention of the government.
“These schools depend on school fees from the learners and most of these learners are not in school and that tells us that schools have run out of income and private schools employ about 30, 000 teachers so the numbers that are affected are a lot,” he said.
The Private Schools and Colleges Association (PRISCA) says the majority of teachers in private schools had been sent on forced leave because learners who were the source of income had not been going to school due to Covid-19.
PRISCA said without schools fees, there was no money for teachers’ salaries.
PRISCA vice-chairperson, Peter Chileya said in an interview that the only solution to ease the sufferings of the private school teachers was to reopen schools.
Mr. Chileya said allowing private schools to reopen in the New Normal was possible provided they reset their time table and have morning and afternoon sessions so that the Covid-19 guidelines are effectively followed.
“For now, schools just have to open under strict Covid-19 preventative guidelines,” Mr. Chileya said.
And Kabwe’s Hape Villie Private School proprietor, Nyambe Mbuzi Kaunda said the effect of the closure of private schools and teachers due to Covid-19 was immense and needed to be addressed.
Ms. Kaunda said teaches in private schools were the worst affected and that if schools were not re-opened, their lives would be a mess.
She explained that the school management agreed that they would only put seven teachers on a half salary up to this month.
Ms. Kaunda said although schools had not been opened, the school management would not be able to extend the payments of the seven teachers because it had run out of money. “We have 13 teachers and four helpers and we agreed to pay only seven and the rest were sent on forced leave so this closure of schools up to now has greatly affected our teachers so the government should consider reopening schools,” she said.
Ms Natasha Mulaisho, a baby class teacher at Hope Villie Private School laments that life has been difficult and hard to make ends meet because she was among the teachers who were not being paid by the school.
Ms. Malaisho said it was by God’s grace that she was surviving because paying house rentals and providing food for the family had been a challenge.
She proposed that private schools be reopened with a scheduled time table that would allow for about two to three teaching sessions just like it was done in public schools.
A middle-class teacher at Jack and Jill, Agatha Tembo Middle said life after the closure of schools had been hard for teachers in the private sector who depended on the school fees paid by the learners.
Ms. Tembo, who was now selling freezits on the streets to earn a living said she had not been paid her monthly salary since March when the government closed schools.
“Since schools depend on fees paid by the learners and now that they are not coming to school we don’t get paid, the situation is very bad and I’m now selling freezits to survive,” she said. Ms. Tembo appealed to the government to either consider empowering the private school teachers or reopen schools for them to be able to survive in the New Normal. She feared that if the current status quo remained, it would be difficult for private school teachers to get their lives back because it was not certain when the country could get past Covid-19.
When contacted for a comment, Ministry of General Education spokesperson, Nondo Chilonga said the closure and opening of schools were dependent upon the guidance of the Ministry of Health.
Ms. Chilonga said the ministry of Education was awaiting guidance on when the schools would be reopened.
And Ministry of Health spokesperson, Dr Abel Kabalo said the two ministries were already in talks and the public would be guided on what should be done once an agreement was reached.
Dr. Kabalo said the permanent secretaries from the two ministries met on Monday to discuss the matter and are yet to conclude.
In sub Saharan Africa, the Covid-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on education systems. At its height, 194 countries are reported to have implemented countrywide school closures, affecting about 63 million primary and secondary teachers.
Sub-Saharan Africa has not been spared during this crisis, witnessing country-wide closures affecting an estimated 6.4 million teachers.
In May, Botswana reopened schools following the end of a seven-week lockdown.
While the government made efforts to upgrade facilities at public schools, some were not ready on the day of reopening.
According to Africanews, more than two months after suspension of classes due to the coronavirus in Cameroon, primary and secondary school students returned to school.
With masks on, students returned to school in the capital Yaoundé. Sanitary kits have been made available.
Kinshasa reopened schools and universities after more than four months of suspension amid the coronavirus pandemic.
President Tshisekedi visited some of the schools in the capital Kinshasa, where he congratulated and thanked the Education Ministry for their efforts to ensure the reopening of schools that were closed in March due to the coronavirus.
Six months after the Lagos state government announced a lockdown of all public gatherings in Lagos to slow down and control the spread of the coronavirus, the government has announced that schools in the state will be open as of September 14.
While the dates are not set in stone, primary and secondary schools in the state will be open from September 21 and tertiary institutions as of September 14.
Meanwhile, the Zambia National Education Coalition (ZANEC) is concerned that schools have remained closed since March.
“We need to state from the outset that although the idea to close all schools in March was important and strategic, the continued closure of schools for five months now has a great potential of bringing about an education crisis that we have never experienced before.”
ZANEC executive director, George Hamusunga said research conducted in all the provinces with the participation of key stakeholders sadly revealed that the reach of the alternative modes of learning that the Ministry of General Education is implementing is below 23 percent.
Mr Hamusunga called on President Edgar Lungu to consider the immediate re-opening of schools.
“We know that although it may not be possible for our children to practice social distancing, the preventive measures namely the putting on of masks, washing hand with soap regularly, sanitising, regular disinfection of surfaces, enhanced community awareness on Covid-19 and the local monitoring of children’s adherence to Covid-19 preventive measures at school, home as well as on their way to and from school will suffice,” he said.
By KETRA KALUNGA