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ZIMSEC exams start amid gathering Covid-19 storm clouds, 400 infected

BULAWAYO – ZIMSEC Ordinary Level and Grade 7 public examinations get underway under a darkening virus cloud this week with more schools reporting fast-spreading infections among pupils.

One of the latest schools to be affected is Mtshabezi Secondary School in Matabeleland South, where 11 pupils, two teachers and two workers tested positive for the coronavirus.

Nationwide, the ministry of primary and secondary education says close to 400 pupils have been infected, including 184 at John Tallach in Ntabazinduna, 57 at Chinhoyi High, more than 20 cases at All Souls Mission in Mutoko, over 20 cases at Anderson Adventist High in Gweru, more than 10 cases at Matopo High in Matobo, three cases at Rujeko Primary School in Mutare.

Even as the infections spike, the government is determined to push through with the examinations, with officials swatting concerns raised by teachers and parents.

Taungana Ndoro, the director of communications in the ministry of primary and secondary education described the virus outbreak as a “minor setback” and a “distraction”.

“This is just a minor setback. We’re going ahead with the ZIMSEC examinations despite the pandemic. We’re the only country that managed to hold examinations at the peak of the pandemic (in June). So, we have very efficient standard operating procedures that we have put in place to ensure early detection of cases in schools,” Ndoro said.

“So, the pandemic is there as a distraction but as a ministry we won’t be defeated by the pandemic. The focus is on the country’s socio-economic development which is driven by the education sector. The pandemic maybe with us for the unforeseeable future but that does not mean that the learning should stop.

“We have more than 600,000 candidates that have registered for the November examinations. In total, we have a student population of about 4.5 million.”

According to Ndoro, a huge majority of the infected pupils are asymptomatic. Those with positive tests will sit exams in “isolation classrooms” away from healthy students, he added.

Teachers’ unions opposed the re-opening of the third term following the premature closure of schools in March when a national lockdown was declared.

Unions said after missing out on learning for over six months, pupils were poorly prepared for examinations.

A two-month teachers’ strike over poor pay and lack of PPEs which started in September, when schools re-opened, further compounded the crisis.

On Friday, unions once again called for schools to be closed and exams postponed until at least June next year. The Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ) said it had conducted a survey and found that only 30 percent of schools were compliant with the government’s virus standard operating procedures.

“The results are pointing to a disaster. The national average is at 30 percent compliance. Our schools are ideal homes for mass transmission of the coronavirus,” ARTUZ said in a statement.

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