Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) says learners who are sitting for the national examinations this year should be given first preference when schools resume.
Schools were forced to close early in response to the threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
There is uncertainty as to when schools migh reopen as the country is on lockdown in a bid to contain the spread of the deadly virus.
In a statement, PTUZ national coordinator Harison Mudzuri said learners who are writing examinations should be allowed to open earlier than the rest of other learners as measures to maintain social distancing at schools.
Social distancing is one of the measures recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to contain the spread to the COVID-19.
People are expected to maintain a distance of at least 2 meters from the next person.
“PTUZ believes that deliberate attention must be given to exam classes, Grade 7, Form 4 and Upper 6. These may be allowed to open earlier. We suggest that if exam classes open two or three weeks before other classes, they can occupy the whole school and teachers from non-exam classes can be deployed to teach extra created classes. Provided they are treated as frontline workers,” said Mudzuri.
“Under these circumstances, social distancing can be respected as all classrooms can be occupied by the exam classes only”.
He said the lifting of the lockdown in the country will not mitigate the disastrous effect of COVID-19.
“The coronavirus has devastating impacts on several departments in our nation, the education sector included. Whether the national lockdown is going to be lifted earlier or later, does not mitigate the disastrous effects of COVID 19 and the government needs to respond in an appropriate manner,” said Mudzuri.
Mudzuri added social distancing will be a challenge at most schools in the country due to the teacher-pupil ratio.
“In Zimbabwe schools are places where social distancing is not applicable given the current challenges inherent in the education sector, Teacher-pupil ratio is frightening, with the best schools having 1:30 and the worst classes having more than 100 learners.
“To expect pupils to be a meter away from each other means that thousands of schools must be constructed before schools open or that more than half the learners do not attend schools when they eventually open,” he said.
“As PTUZ we suggest the teacher-pupil ratio be reduced to a healthy 1:15. It is only with such a ration that we can talk of social distance”.
Speaking to CITE, PTUZ secretary-general Raymond Majongwe said there is a need to talk about the issue of teacher-pupil safety before talking about school opening.
“We hope our government is thinking ahead we don’t want people to just talk about reopening schools without addressing the issue of teacher and pupil safety,” said Majongwe.
Meanwhile, the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe president Obert Masaraure said schools should only open when the coronavirus has been fully contained.
“Teachers and learners should be tested before going back to school. Our schools should be disinfected, sanitizers should be readily available and social distancing should be practiced in schools.
“If we cannot afford this as a nation then it is better to keep schools closed until we are certain that the virus has been contained,” said Masaraure.