The Sunday Mail
Many learners are being put in harm’s way as some serving and retired teachers are secretly conducting private lessons during the lockdown period, raising the likelihood that they could be increasingly exposed to the deadly coronavirus, The Sunday Mail Society can reveal. Under the current regulations, public gatherings are prohibited, except for funerals, where attendance is limited to 50.
However, the clandestine gatherings that are being convened by some teachers threaten to reverse some of the gains made in fighting the virus.
Government closed all schools and colleges on March 24 2020, a week earlier than scheduled and four days after reporting its first confirmed coronavirus case. However, the growing uncertainty gripping the nation on when schools will reopen has led some individuals to capitalise by offering lessons at their residences.
Our investigations last week confirmed that unregistered schools had indeed resurfaced in most parts of the country.
Most parents prefer tutoring to online-based studies, which are being offered by registered institutions, because of the high cost of data.
Backyard schools are operating mainly in high-density suburbs.
Grade Seven, Ordinary and Advanced Level students who are set to sit for their national examinations this year make up the bulk of the clients.
In most cases, the lessons are conducted behind precast walls during the day, while others prefer the cover of darkness.
However, it is feared that inasmuch as these makeshift profit-making “schools” are helping learners keep up with their studies, this might come at a very high cost to public health.
Recent Government data indicate that there could be over 219 unregistered schools in Harare alone compared to 205 registered institutions.
The makeshift schools are common in areas such as Kuwadzana, Mabvuku, Dzivaresekwa, Hopley, Tynwald, Glen View and Warren Park.
Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe’s claims there could be more than 1 200 makeshift schools operating across the country.
Meeting the culprits
Disguised as guardian to a prospective learner, The Sunday Mail Society managed to interact with some of the defiant teachers.
In Kuwadzana, an educator confirmed he was aware of the lockdown regulations but still decided to disregard them.
“Education has to carry on. We maintain social distancing and we have since contributed money to buy hand sanitisers that we apply before commencing studies,” Mr Arnold Chirikure proudly asserted.
He is presently tutoring more than 20 students at his home.
Half of the learners attend classes during the day, while the remainder come for evening classes. “I charge as little as US$7 per month for each child. I have since employed two qualified teachers,” he added, as he spiritedly tried to convince this writer to bring his child on board.
Separately, Mr Tafadzwa Mberi (not his real name) and his colleagues conduct lessons in Dzivaresekwa Extension.
They charge US$6 per learner per month.
Mr Mberi has a class of 30 primary school learners and he claims to be conducting lessons in batches of not more than three “in line with social distancing”.
But after we smuggled ourselves into the premises, we managed to do a headcount of about 15 learners.
“I have been offering extra lessons before and during the lockdown. That has been my only source of income. I retired from active teaching as a civil servant some 10 years ago,” said Mr Mberi, who is presently being assisted by his wife — a lecturer at a local university.
He claims to attract as many as 50 learners, translating to about US$300 per month income.
But these illegal activities are unfortunately being aided and abetted by parents and guardians. “I do not know when this Covid-19 crisis will end. I cannot sit and watch my son miss out on his studies. Initially I was sceptical but all my friends are sending their children for these lessons,” said Kuwadzana-based Mai Tinashe.
“My daughter is supposed to be writing her Ordinary Level examinations this year. Some of her colleagues are studying online but I cannot afford that. The extra lessons are risky but an easy option for us. There is not much we can do under the circumstances,” said Mr Richard Madondo, a Warren Park resident.
Government, however, thinks otherwise.
Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education spokesperson Mr Patrick Zumbo said the public should report such illegal activities for appropriate action to be taken.
“It is against the law to conduct extra lessons either at home or schools. This applies to periods before, during and after the lockdown. Report such people and they will be brought to book,” urged Mr Zumbo.
Opportunists seem to be taking advantage of the nationwide shortage of schools.
According to the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education 2016 annual statistical report, the country has a shortage of over 2 000 schools. But some of the teachers that are employed in these makeshift schools are not qualified, which could adversely impact on learners.
Under-the-tree classes are the most affordable to most families due to the prevailing economic challenges.
Online schools are an alternative, albeit an expensive one.
Professor Donald Rukwata, a part-time university lecturer, says Covid-19 has brought a different dimension to local education.
“This is a global problem. But the sudden shift from conventional classes gives rise to temporary learning mechanisms and online learning processes. Traditional schools have to up their online learning options so that they counter the makeshift school challenge,” said Prof Rukwata.
He adds that online studies require tutors to think about courses in a new way that accommodates new learning tools and techniques.
But online learning is considered to be unfriendly to disadvantaged groups, especially those with limited access to the internet.
New School Term
Government is reportedly working on a new school calendar for 2020.
Speaking during a recent media training workshop involving the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Higher Life Foundation, Secretary for Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Mr Nick Mangwana said schools would have to cover for lost time.
The Government was deliberating on the way forward, said Mr Mangwana.
Overall, Government is working on a plan to construct at least 10 schools per province this year to cater for the growing number of learners.
About $400 million has already been allocated for the project.
Last year, a total of 18 schools in eight provinces were built, while private organisations and individuals constructed 150.
Building more schools is expected to lower the educator-to-learner ratio from 1:60 to the standard 1:35.