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ZOU refuses to defer exams despite the spike in COVID-19 cases and deaths

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In move that has shocked thousands of students, Zimbabwe’s largest university by enrolment, Zimbabwe Open University has decided to continue with on-going physical examinations despites other universities shutting down due the ever increasing number if COVID-19 infections and deaths in Zimbabwe.

In a statement to students today, the university told students that examinations will continue despite President Emmerson Mnangagwa re-introducing tough lockdown enforcement, curfew and a ban for gatherings above 50 people. In a memorandum signed by the Registrar Mr T A Kaseke, the university stated that, “be advised that all students who are currently sitting for their examinations will be allowed to continue writing their examinations as per timetable and current arrangements.”

This is however is violation of the ban by the President, who is also the University’s Chancellor that no examinations will be written after 3pm. Some students who spoke to The Tribune expressed fears that the university is forcing them to violate the laws of the land and also expose them to the novel virus. Majority of students have 2 hour papers that start at 2pm, ending at 4pm, in clear violation of the lockdown rules. The university statement is silent on the afternoon examinations and steps it has taken to protect the staff and students. Majority of the university students are civil servants, who have been told to remain at home by the government.

The university issued a clearance letter via “my vista” portal but majority of the students have failed to download it since the system crushes constantly. A visibly upset Bachelor of Arts student who spoke to The Tribune stated that the university doesn’t some to care about its staff and student body. “The University is a distance learning institution and has been running virtual class for years so why can’t they use the platform for student to write exams, or better still, defer them like what major universities are doing? They are clearly setting us up to break the laws and in the worst case, exposing us to a disease that doesn’t have a cure. They are heartless,” she stated.

Some universities are postponing their end of semester examinations as a precaution against the spike in local Covid-19 cases with most allowing students already present to finish writing their exams, but are postponing exams still to be written.

Each university or college is expected to make decisions based on the situation on the ground.

Classes that were yet to begin writing are the most likely to be affected as most universities have, or are likely to, postpone exams.

Great Zimbabwe University has since told students of the postponement in a statement by registrar Ms Sinikiwe Gwatidzo which gave students 24 hours to return to their homes. “Students who had travelled for face to face tuition, practical lessons and subsequent examinations return to their homes beginning today 22 July. “Vacation of halls of residence shall be allowed up to the end of day tomorrow, Thursday 23 July,” the notice said.

Higher and Tertiary Education, Innovation, Science and Technology Development Permanent Secretary Professor Fanuel Tagwira explained that those who were already writing will finish their papers.

“Those who were in the middle of writing cannot be disrupted. However, those who were yet to begin will have to hear from their institutions. Each university is making its own assessment and coming up with a decision on whether or not to continue with examinations under such conditions,” he said.

Professor Tagwira said those who had not started were unlikely to write until the situation improved, as their papers might take three weeks, which is a long time in a pandemic environment. “There are no hard and fast rules as the President did not order universities to close. However, as a matter of precaution universities are better off stopping examinations for now until the situation improves, because if a single person tests positive according to WHO guidelines they are supposed to close,” said Prof Tagwira.

“After examinations, people can continue learning online until it is safe to return on campus.”

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