lasses resumed partially yesterday amid observance of Covid-19 rules, although there are fears that the measures may be compromised once schools open fully.
Public schools and universities re-opened after a five-month break with the first phase targeting final year university students, learners in examination classes (Form Four and Standard 8) and Initial Primary Teacher Education 14 students.
However, spot-checks The Nation conducted yesterday in schools across three districts revealed inconsistencies in adherence to Covid-19 preventive measures by learners.
When The Nation visited some government and private institutions in Blantyre, Dowa and Mzuzu, all learners and teachers were seen wearing face masks and each classroom had a bucket of water and hand washing soap at the entrance. Social distancing was being observed with learners’ desks separated one metre apart.
However, the learners were seen taking off the masks at break time and immediately after leaving school premises, raising questions on the effectiveness of the measures as any interaction outside the schools can spread the pandemic.
In an interview, Mzuzu’s Katoto Secondary School head teacher Christopher Nyasulu said they were provided with funds to buy the materials, including face masks and shields for the school’s 60 teachers.
He said: “So far, the situation is manageable because we only have Form Four students. We have 293 students in that class and today, we have split them into eight classes. So at this point, it is easy to effect social distancing in classes.
“However, when other classes resume, it will be difficult. We may have to opt for open spaces, like teaching the students outside, in the hall and other buildings. We may also have to stagger the classes so that classes alternate between days in attending school. That’s the challenge we envisage.”
Already, some schools were seen conducting lessons in the open air, with learners sitting on the ground, in an apparent effort to decongest classrooms.
On her part, Katoto Primary School head teacher Linda Luhanga, while acknowledging the availability of some materials, cited other challenges such as lack of a sick bay, thermometers, beds and mattresses.
She said: “The only challenge is that the break was too long and learners seem to have forgotten most of the work. We hope they will catch up by the end of this week. The school has received 90 percent of the materials required, including soap, basins and pails.”
Out of an enrollment of 256 pupils in Standard 8, only 221 reported for classes yesterday, wearing masks and observing the required minimum of one-metre distance in class.
At privately-owned Target Schools, whose director is former Mzuzu City mayor William Mkandawire, students had their temperatures checked at the entrance, with those without masks sent back.
He said: “We have over 500 students in Form Four and what we are doing is that each class has about 40 students. So, students are spread across the classes, and when the other classes resume we will use all facilities that we have.”
In Blantyre, schools such as Chichiri Primary and Secondary, Njamba Secondary, Blantyre Secondary, Zingwangwa Secondary and Ndirande Matope and LEA schools were all observing precautionary measures.
At Chamwala Primary School in Dowa were seen interacting at break time without wearing masks or observing social distancing.
When visited during classes, each was wearing a mask, mostly made from cloth.
Head teacher,Hilliard Chankanga said his school is very strict in ensuring that learners observe all preventive measures.
He said: “As you have seen, we have buckets of water and soap for hand-washing and wearing of masks is mandatory. We have sent back a few learners who didn’t have face masks on.”
On learners failing to observe the preventive measures outside the classroom, Chankanga said he was optimistic that the learners will get used to the “new normal” and wear face masks all the time.
He said the cloth face masks were made by some community members who were trained by experts from the Ministry of Education.
Government directed that schools should close on March 23 this year as a Covid-19 preventive measure. On April 2, Malawi registered its first three Covid-19 cases, which escalated to 5 614, including 175 deaths by last evening.
Additional reporting by Lloyd Chitsulo.