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NO NEW BUDGET FOR SCHOOLS REOPENING

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MBABANE – It would seem government has no new budget for the reopening of schools as head teachers claim to have been requested to use money allocated for free primary education (FPE).


They have also been requested to make use of money given to them to cater for orphaned and vulnerable children (OVCs).
The head teachers have been requested to use the FPE and OVC money to cater for the needs that will come with the reopening of schools, mainly purchasing of items that would make schools ideal for learners in light of the coronavirus.


Most schools will require sanitisers, water tanks and cleaning material, among many other items.
All public primary schools get about E560 from government for each pupil under the FPE programme.  
Most head teachers have raised concerns that they had been receiving information to the effect that they were supposed to use the money allocated to run schools to meet the COVID-19 demands.


The Ministry of Education and Training recently furnished head teachers with requirements for what is expected of them prior to the reopening of schools on July 1, 2020.
It should be noted that the reopening of schools would be staggered.


Form Vs will be the first to start lessons on July 1, followed by Form IIIs and Grade VIIs on July 15, as announced by Prime Minister Ambrose Mandvulo Dlamini last Friday.


The gripe of most head teachers is that the money has already been utilised on other things during the first two months of the first term.
Government decided to close schools in mid-March as parents were apprehensive about the coronavirus.


Books


The head teachers said they had utilised the money to purchase books, pay support staff and the general running of the schools.
Most head teachers did not wish to have their names published.


One of them said a message was shared to him by a member who is part of the committee involved in preparing for the reopening of schools.
The message reads: “The schools are mostly going to use their budgets to provide what is needed. The ministry and partners will assist where there is serious need.”


The message further touched on two challenges, which are payment of the FPE and OVC grants which was said to be one factor that would delay the readiness of schools. The second challenge was that the Treasury Department was not paying on time for work already done and that would ‘frustrate a lot of progress.’


When other head teachers were reached for comment, they also said they had utilised the money they received from government when schools opened earlier in the year.
One of the head teachers explained that they normally received the funds in two tranches yearly. The first tranche is usually half of the total amount allocated for each pupil annually and the second is the balance.


Another head teacher shared that there were a lot of loopholes in what the ministry wanted them to do as they had been told that they were yet to be trained on the expectations regarding the reopening of schools.


“At some point, the ministry said teachers will be expected to be in school two weeks prior to the reopening of schools. At the same time, we are almost in mid-month and we have not started anything in preparation for the schools reopening, but we have to be done by month end,” noted a female head teacher.
She said she even reached out to her colleagues, seeking answers, only to find that they were also in the dark.


Chairman of the Education Cluster, Bhekibadla Magongo referred all questions to the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Education and Training Bertram Stewart.


Stewart said Cabinet had not advised the ministry on the position about the budget lines to be used to meet the demands for reopening of schools.
He said, however, information he had was that there was no new budget for such, except what was currently available in the government systems. “We might need to reallocate in some instances, but that  will depend on how cabinet will guide us on this matter,” he said.


When questioned about the message that was circulating among the head teachers, Stewart said he would not comment as he had not met with the chairman to discuss the outcome of the latest meetings he had.


“Maybe he is still going to brief us as a ministry,” he added
Some of the guidelines given by the ministry prior to reopening  schools is the setting up of isolation areas, making visible emergency phone numbers (COVID-19 call centres, police, fire, education, etc) and install, social distancing floor signs or markings in every classroom and meeting area, among others.


Exhausted


The President of the Eswatini Principals Association, Welcome Mhlanga, also confirmed that most schools had already exhausted the money allocated by government for FPE.  He said he had not seen the message making rounds, but could only confirm that government was not clear as to where they were to get the money to comply with the COVID-19 regulations and standards as stipulated by the Ministry of Education and Training. Mhlanga said what would help the situation was government coming out clear on what was provided and expected of head teachers.


“The only thing we can emphasise is for parents to pay on time so that we have available funds should the need arise,” he said.
According to the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT), there was never a budget to cater for the reopening of schools.
SNAT President Mbongwa Dlamini, said they questioned government several times about the allocated budget, but they never got a response.
“We were simply told to work,” he claimed.

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