MIHR Submission on the 2nd Term opening of Schools in Zimbabwe

  1. Matabeleland Institute for Human Rights (MIHR) recognizes and appreciates the various efforts being made by the government of Zimbabwe in curbing the rampant spread of Corona virus outbreak in Zimbabwe. Measures that included the abrupt closure of schools before the end of 1st term were very commendable and appreciated and show the government and the Ministry’s commitment to protecting, promoting and fulfilling the rights of children in the country.
  2. As the Lockdown is nearing its end, we are aware of public discourse and debates around the opening of schools for 2nd term, and as an organization that believes in engagement and dialogue towards human rights fulfilment we felt it necessary to share with you our views, opinions and ideas on the subject:
    • As MIHR we believe the decision to open for 2nd term should be guided by the need to protect, promote and fulfil human rights and as Sections 19(1) and 81(2) of the Constitution detects, it should be at the best interest of the children;
    • We believe that opening schools for 2nd term 2020 is an urgent need considering the lost time in 1st term, the packed curriculum, the continued assessment model being used currently in the country and the examinations that are pending;
    • The second term of schooling is during the cold winter season which is characterized by high cases of common cold (flu) – and flu like symptoms are also a characteristic of Covid19;
    • Majority of our primary and secondary schools do not have dispensaries and dedicated primary health care facilities to manage even the outbreak of a simple common cold or diarrhea;
    • The bulk of the Zimbabwean population is in rural areas where students are travelling upto 5km to the nearest school (and in some communities even upto 10km) and this means that hygienic practices may be difficult to monitor and enforce amongst the children;
    • Most of our schools (both in urban and rural areas) have overcrowded classrooms with upto 50 or 60 students. Social distancing and not touching common public places is difficult in such a scenario;
    • Our teachers are demotivated by the prevailing harsh economic situation and poor remuneration and thus they may not feel compelled or motivated to take the extra role of enforcing the wearing of masks, washing of hands and general hygienic practices amongst children.
  3. In view of the above mentioned issues we therefore recommend the following regarding the opening of schools:
  4. Any attempt to reopen schools be delayed atleast upto 18 May 2020 but the reopening be on staggered phase out system starting with the exams classes first (grade 7, form 4s and 6); then after two weeks extend to Form 5, Form 3 and Grade 6; then after two weeks other classes with the lower classes and forms opening in July. This will allow for time to monitor infections in schools vis-à-vis community infections, manage congestion at school during risky times, continuous disinfections and avoid the risk of the summer common cold;
  5. Before the opening of schools, all schools be disinfected and there be a commitment and programme of disinfecting schools every two weeks;
  6. The Ministry affords all schools multiple Infrared Thermometers for checking student temperatures at the gate, facemasks for all teachers, hand sanitizers for all teachers, and liquid soap for handwashing for all students;
  7. Before opening of schools, the government pass a Statutory Instrument compelling all parents to make sure that children wear face masks before coming to school;
  8. All second term sporting activities be suspended indefinitely;
  9. The Ministry should open but with a contingency plan for speedy and abrupt closure of schools should there be cases of covid19 outbreak in schools.
  10. Our humble submission is that if the aforementioned may not be met or are too hard to meet, the Ministry and the government may best consider; in the best interests of the children; to suspend the opening of schools wholesomely until maybe Mid June 2020 where proper and more indepth assessments of the national outbreak situation has been made and the Covid19 curve is managed and flattened.

Matabeleland Institute for Human Rights (MIHR) is an independent human rights watchdog that exists to enhance the protection, promotion and fulfilment of the rights and freedoms of marginalized communities and vulnerable social groups.

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