GENERAL Education Permanent Secretary Jobbicks Kalumba says stakeholders must advocate for schools to be opened because keeping them closed until next year will be disastrous.

And Kalumba says COVID-19 must not be looked at as a big mountain to overshadow other forms of development because the country will collapse.

Speaking when he featured on ZNBC’s Kwacha Good Morning show, Thursday, Kalumba urged stakeholders to advocate for schools to be re-opened.

“We should preach one thing [that] schools must be opened, otherwise, a good number of people will lose employment. And when they lose employment, what are the consequences of that? It’s like we have looked at COVID-19 as a big mountain. It shouldn’t raise fear to me; COVID-19 has come to stay, but other developmental programmes must continue. That’s the meaning of new normal,” Kalumba said.

He said that COVID-19 must not overshadow other forms of development because the pandemic was there to stay.

“COVID-19 must not overshadow other forms of development that government is embarking on. Otherwise, this country will collapse! Roads will never be constructed. No form of activities will take place. It is a new normal. As long as we abide by what the Ministry of Health has provided, let’s just continue. Here is an experience, no child has died and they have closed the schools. And I know they will come back to their similar health status. We have nothing to get worried about. Life must continue as usual. We must move on with life in order to give hope to this nation,” he urged.

Kalumba further said that with or without schools opening, everyone was a potential carrier of the virus, hence the need to allow schools to re-open.

“How many people die of malaria on a daily basis? So, we have stopped talking about malaria, but it’s all about COVID-19. People have diabetes, people have heart disease and they are dying. But now, what is so special about COVID-19 that it should overshadow other forms of development? It’s there, we know. But we should take precautions. Look at me here, I am married. I have a wife at home. [I practice] social distancing during the day [but what about] in the night? So, all of us are potential carriers of the virus. During the day, we have social distancing, but at night I am with my wife. Even in our homes, we have extended families, our children sleep just like that. We have no social distancing in our homes. Why shouldn’t schools be re-opened?” Kalumba asked.

And he said that the Ministry had the capacity to accommodate all the learners in schools through a designed timetable, which will have spaced learning sessions.

“We shall accommodate all the children because we are going to design the time table in such a way that there will be sessions. Others can come in the morning and learn up to 10:00 hours; others up to 12: 00 hours; others up to 15:00 hours and others up to 18:00 hours. In that way, we will be able to maintain social distancing,” he added.

He insisted that it would be disastrous if schools did not re-open this year as certain grades would have two sets of learners.

“It will be disastrous if schools don’t open this year because at the moment, we have the grade sevens who are now going to write their examinations. When they pass, they will go to grade eight. At the same time, we have some grade eights who are at home. So, it simply means that in a particular year, there will be two grade eight groups, which are very difficult for us to comprehend. Grade nines are writing examinations right now, next year, there is another grade 10, which is waiting at home. These are the complications, which we will have if we don’t open schools this year. There will be a disaster,” Kalumba warned.

Asked if those who were not in examination classes should be allowed to progress to the next grade, Kalumba said doing so would compromise the quality of education.

“That is wrong. We are going to compromise on quality. We are going to usher into another phase of life as a compromised country because what we learn today has a bearing on what we are going to cover. If there is a topic on reproduction today in grade 10, the same topic on reproduction will emerge in grade 11 covering different units. So, you don’t have to compromise on quality in the name of progressing. It’s better we adjust the time table, we reduce the number of holidays so that we cover up the whole content,” he said.

Meanwhile, Kalumba announced that his Ministry had made a recommendation to the Office of the President requesting for a go-ahead to re-open schools.

“As a Ministry, we cannot make a decision [as to when schools should open], we have also other bodies that must give us a go-ahead. And as a Ministry, we have made a recommendation to the highest authority and when they feel like, yes, it’s the right time, they will grant us the authority,” said Kalumba.