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TEACHER UNIONS OPPOSE OPENING OF SCHOOLS

By OLIVER SAMBOKO

TEACHERS unions have opposed the government’s plans to reopen schools next week, saying the coronavirus threat was worse than when they closed.

The unions have instead proposed that schools be reopened after 21 days to ensure that the Covid-9 pandemic would have been contained or eased.

This is contained in a joint statement by the six unions – the Zambia National Union of Teachers, Secondary School Teachers Union of Zambia, United Teachers Union of Zambia, Basic Education Teachers Union of Zambia, Professional Teachers Union of Zambia and the National Union of Public and Private Educators of Zambia.

The unions noted that they have received representation of concern from teachers, parents and other stakeholders regarding the proposed premature reopening of schools by the Ministry of General Education.

They contend that the ministry has been issuing inconsistent statements on the opening and often against the health guidelines and in contradiction of the other ministry in the education sector, which has ordered the closure of all higher educational institutions.

“When schools were closed, the number of Covid infections were relatively low, we have now witnessed a very sharp rise in both infections and deathS and both teachers and pupils have fallen victim,” the statement reads.

Meanwhile, the National Action for Quality Education in Zambia (NAQEZ) has also opposed the reopening of schools and has appealed to President Edgar Lungu to intervene against the decision of the Ministry of General Education. 

NAQEZ Executive Director Aaron Chansa said as an organization they are shocked that at a time when the nation is losing 72 lives per day, universities and bars closed, the Ministry of General Education has announced the reopening of schools.

“Our passionate appeal to President Edgar Lungu is for him to personally intervene against the untimely reopening of schools as announced by the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of General Education,” Mr Chansa said.

He said the Covid-19 has not spared teachers and hat a recent survey revealed that a lot of teachers are infected with the virus, while a good number of them have died from the pandemic.

“Schools are not adequately resourced in terms of finances, materials and equipment to mitigate the spread or containment of the pandemic.

“Covid-19 has now spread into our communities where our teachers and pupils live, thus making schools the melting point for the pandemic. Standards officers are not qualified health practitioners to be able to ascertain the state of preparedness of schools in terms of opening of schools,” the statement reads.

The unions appreciate that it is important to save the school academic calendar and that prolonged closure would impact negatively on the accomplishment of both the academic calendar and school curriculum.

“The unions are also aware of the psychological and social implications the prolonged closure of schools may have on the learners,” the unions said.

However, the unions believe that reopening of schools should be guided and informed by the safety of the learners, teachers and education support staff in schools whilst ensuring that reopening does not contribute in any way to the spread of Covid.

The unions also said as guided and advised by medical experts, all schools remain closed until after 21 days subject to review.

The unions have recommended that during this period, government and other stakeholders should come up with measures of ensuring that there is safety in the teaching and learning environment.

“It has become clear that the coronavirus, is not leaving us and we need to rise from this pandemic working closely together. In this regard, the unions suggest that Government and other stakeholders come up with both short and long term measures to minimise the impact on the education sector,” the unions said.

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