A HUNDRED pupils and several teachers at John Tallach Secondary School in Ntabazinduna, about 40km from Bulawayo have tested positive to Covid-19. This is the first school in the country to record such a high number of pupils and teachers that have contracted the virus since the re-opening of schools which was staggered starting with examination classes in September.
Schools were closed prematurely in March as part of measures to contain the pandemic and Government after assessing the situation, reopened the schools in phases starting in September and the last group of pupils resumed classes early this month.
The Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education came up with Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) to guide schools on how to minimise pupils and teachers’ exposure to the pandemic. Under the new normal, hugging and handshakes are prohibited and pupils will not share desks and educational materials such as textbooks.
A classroom should have a maximum of 35 pupils to enable pupils to maintain social distancing. Break and lunch times are supposed to be staggered to avoid overcrowding and all sporting activities are banned.
Government warned school authorities that they risk facing disciplinary action for failing to enforce SOP. Following the frightening figures of pupils that tested positive to Covid-19 at John Tallach Secondary School, many questions are being asked by parents, health officials, Education Ministry and the Ad Hoc Inter Ministerial Taskforce on Covid-19 regarding what could have gone wrong at the boarding school.
The school’s development committee representative Mr Zibusiso Ncube said the standard operating procedures as spelt out by the Education Ministry were being adhered to. There might therefore, be a need to revisit the SOP and the enforcement measures before the situation gets out of hand at our schools.
It is possible that school authorities are strictly implementing the SOP but each time pupils are alone; they throw caution to the wind. There is a need therefore, to come up with strict monitoring mechanisms to ensure the SOP is adhered to all the times including at pupils’ dormitories and in communities where pupils come from.
The challenge therefore, is to drive the message home that SOP should be observed within the school premises and outside.
Government at one time hinted on introducing special school buses but this was never implemented. Given what happened at John Tallach, there is a need to direct all efforts at ensuring pupils are safe at school and in the communities.
The John Tallach case should serve as a warning to other schools especially boarding schools regarding the enforcement of SOP. The world is witnessing a second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic which has forced many
European countries to re-introduce lockdown restrictions to contain the pandemic and we don’t want our schools to be Covid-19 hotspots.