BLANTYRE, Malawi, Feb. 23 (Xinhua) -- The Malawian government has decided to reopen all schools in the country after a five-week break due to the rise of COVID-19 cases in the country. However, the development has been obstructed as teachers go on strike, demanding COVID-19 risk allowance, among many other demands.
On Monday, many students had returned to school in large numbers with high hopes of resuming classes only to find classes with no teachers in various schools in Blantyre, Malawi's second largest city. The teachers on strike are demanding protective gear and risk allowances for teaching amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Teachers Union of Malawi (TUM) President, Willy Malimba, told local media that the sit-in is meant to push the government to address their concerns which were presented way back.
"We are starting the strike on Monday and we will call it off once the government brings to the table something tangible," said Malimba.
Reports from across the country Monday morning indicated that, in most schools, children were either sent back or left unattended by the protesting teachers.
"We are taking a risk to be in class with children who have reported without any medical certificate indicating that they are COVID-19 free: we cannot start teaching without protective gear," a teacher in the commercial city of Blantyre was quoted by local media Monday.
The spokesperson for the Ministry of Education, Chikondi Chimala, told the local media that the teachers' concerns "were submitted to the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 for consideration".
Students Excited about Going Back to School
In an interview, Margret Nkusan'gombe, a form three student at St Kizito Community Day Secondary School in Blantyre said that she is very excited that schools have reopened. According to her, unplanned holidays disturb the school calendar and this has a great impact on her class progress.
"I would like to ask the government to promote and enforce COVID-19 measures in all schools. This aids safety of both students and teachers in general. As a way of protecting myself, I have carried with me a facemask and a hand sanitizer for safety, but the government can do even more to ensure that everyone in schools is safe," she said.
Similarly, Kondwani Gustino, a standard 6 student at St Kizito Boys Secondary in Blantyre said that he is very ready for school despite the rapid spread of COVID-19 in the county. According to him, he is very optimistic that he is safe because he has a facemask and his school provides hand washing materials constantly.
While critics are questioning the government's decision to reopen schools against the current situation, some parents have welcomed the idea citing that education is very important to their children.
Linda Chimtengo, a mother of four school-going children said that it's good news that schools have reopened. "But it's my plea to the education authorities to take further steps in ensuring that every student is safe," she said.
Education authorities in Blantyre have disclosed that schools are well-prepared to accommodate students in a safer environment from COVID-19.
"We are very prepared for the reopening of schools after a five-week break, we have made sure that all handwashing materials are available in all schools, for the learners and teachers, masks are also available and all rooms including classes and toilets have been properly disinfected," said Anita Kaliwo, District Education Manager for Blantyre urban.
"We have also seriously looked at the issue of social distancing to make sure that students are not overcrowding in other rooms. In other schools which are highly enrolled we have introduced shifts to make sure classes are not overcrowding," she said.