September 22, 2021

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Double shift schools put students first

BULWAYO, ZIMBABWE – It will be a beautiful day, Raymond Payne thought as he buttoned his blue shirt and tied his tie. This week, he may be attending classes in the morning.

Zimbabwean schools reopened in March after the coronavirus closed most for a full year. But the new rules of social distancing have prompted many to return to a controversial two-shift model: half of the students in one class attend in the morning, the other half in the afternoon.

Mornings are better, says 16-year-old Payne, as teachers are “more engaging” in the first place. In the summer months, he adds, it’s harder to concentrate on sultry afternoons.

The system known as hot-sitting, as the seats never have time to cool down, predates the pandemic. It emerged with the independence of Zimbabwe in 1980, with the aim of increasing access to education after decades of racial discrimination under British colonialism. With more children than classrooms, hot-sitting was designed to stretch limited resources until the infrastructure caught up.

But the model remained. For its critics, hot-sitting, or hot-seating, has also lowered the level of education. A 2020 World Bank report found that around 40% of Zimbabwe’s primary and secondary schools were still using the system due to insufficient public investment in education.

COVID-19 has aggravated the situation. Last July, government pandemic guidelines approved hot-sitting “as a way to decongest schools”. Those who were no longer hot-sitting have adopted the method again, says Obert Masaraure, president of the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe.

“In some cases, we’ve had classes that had up to 120 students,” he says. “These had to be divided [in]to at least six groups, forcing hot-sitting “.

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Fortune Moyo, GPJ Zimbabwe

Raymond Payne studies for his next exams. It needs to review its 2020 and 2021 schedules after the pandemic has closed schools for a year.

The system has put a strain on Zimbabwean students. “This situation isn’t working for me,” Payne says, with year-end exams approaching October. “I still have a lot to learn considering we didn’t learn everything last year.”

The teenager dreams of becoming an architect but fears he is already late. Before the pandemic, his government-run high school in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest city, ran school days on a regular basis. Since the introduction of hot-sitting in March, the teaching time has been reduced from the usual seven hours a day to accommodate both shifts.

“We can only learn for about three or four hours a day, which isn’t enough because we have a lot of ground to cover,” says Payne, explaining how students are racing to catch up on last year’s program along with the new one.

Hot-sitting is not unique to Zimbabwe. It has been used or is still in use by other nations – from Jordan and Malaysia to Botswana and Tanzania – where it is usually called a double shift school.

But the method’s implementation varies widely, according to a 2008 UNESCO pamphlet on the subject. Author Mark Bray concluded that dual shift schools can be a valuable tool, if managed well, in helping to achieve universal education. He pointed to studies from the 1980s and 1990s which showed that the level of education sometimes improved under the model, while acknowledging that the results were variable.

Two of the main concerns in Zimbabwe – the reduction of learning time and the exhaustion of teachers running both sessions – were not factors in some dual shift systems, which maintained the same teaching hours and hired different groups of teachers.

“We can only learn for about three or four hours a day, which isn’t enough because we have a lot of ground to cover.”Student

Many Zimbabweans accept the model as a temporary solution. “Sitting in the heat is better than not going to school,” says Siphathele Ncube, a mother of two at a government school in Bulawayo.

But hot-sitting in the days of the coronavirus meant that students can no longer sit together and share items like textbooks or stationery, something low-income families relied on.

“Hot sitting alone is pretty exhausting but made worse by [the] lack of teaching materials, as students can no longer share them, “says a government school teacher, who asked for anonymity for fear of losing his job.

His school in central Bulawayo was not very active before the pandemic and staff have a hard time adjusting. “Teaching has become difficult because I have to teach two programs internally [a] limited time, “says the educator.

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The cost of textbooks is also prohibitive. Last year, according to a June World Bank report, the pandemic added another 1.3 million Zimbabweans to the number of extremely poor people. It is estimated that nearly half of the population lived in extreme poverty in 2020 as people lost jobs and income.

Nomathamsanqa Dliwayo, a 25-year-old mother living in Mzilikazi, a high-density suburb of Bulawayo, says a set of eight textbooks for her third-grader daughter would cost her about 6,800 Zimbabwean dollars (ZWL) ($ 117) per the year.

But the receptionist only earns ZWL 5,000 ($ 58) every month. So far he has bought three textbooks. “He’s financially strained,” says Dliwayo. “But what a choice I have. I have to buy them for my son. “

Taungana Ndoro, director of communications and advocacy at the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, says an increase in hot sessions was “the new reality” under the coronavirus.

Lack of resources has been a problem in Zimbabwe since “time immemorial,” he says, adding that the government is building “new infrastructure in schools to allow social distancing and decongest” existing buildings.

The goal is to eventually eliminate dual-session school entirely. “When resources are available, students don’t need to sit hot,” says Ndoro.

For now, students like Payne have to adapt to the new-old system.