The lockdown to control the spread of the novel coronavirus has disrupted Zimbabwe’s education system to an extent that it may take years to recover.
Authorities were forced to halt the first term for 2020 in March after the country recorded its first cases of the flu-like disease that was first detected in China late last year.
The government had few options available when it came to education because the environment in schools is ideal for the quick spread of the virus, something that could have been catastrophic for a country with an ailing health delivery system like Zimbabwe.
Three months after the lockdown began, some children started returning to their schools to sit for the June examinations a fortnight ago.
The phased re-opening of schools, however, starts on July 28 with classes of pupils sitting for final year examinations, which are Grade 7 and Form fours as well as Form sixes.
They would be followed by those in Grades 6, Forms 3 and 5 classes while those in Grades 3, 4 and 5 as well as Forms 1 and 2 would be in the next phase.
Grades 1 and 2 will follow thereafter while those in early childhood development classes would be the last to return to school.
The government insists that it is doing all it can to ensure the health and well-being of learners, teachers, staff and communities. But it should not be lost in people’s minds that prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, Zimbabwe’s economic and health systems were already under a severe strain.
A break of four months has also left schools that heavily rely on user fees for their operations, struggling for survival as parents were not paying school fees.
Expecting the schools to meet preconditions for the safe resumption of classes that include infection and control measures could be asking for too much in an economy that is on its knees.
To eliminate risks of infection, schools should ensure social distancing and the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) at a time the economy is imploding.
As if that was not enough, Zimbabwe last week recorded a spike in Covid-19 infections and deaths. As of Friday, the number of cases had risen to 942 with 13 deaths.
The statistics are a stark reminder that the threat posed by Covid-19 remains high, hence the need for caution in opening up society including the return of children to school.
Zimbabwe could learn a valuable lesson from Kenya, which last week cancelled the 2020 school calendar.
Classes will only resume next year where hopefully significant progress would be made towards finding a vaccine to control coronavirus infections.
There is absolutely no need for the government to rush the re-opening of schools at the risk of opening a route for a surge in infections.