Zimbabwe resumed in-classroom teaching this week, but thousands of teachers are protesting salaries that are below the poverty level and a lack of personal protective equipment against COVID-19.
Zimbabwe's Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union says it will only call off the strike when the government addresses the concerns.
"And there is negligence on the part of the authorit(ies) to make sure that there is enough safety to guarantee our teachers and learners from the pandemic," said Robson Chere, secretary general of the teachers union. "They should have been providing adequate water supply, enough PPEs. Arcturus Primary School, which is down here, hasn't even water. It's messy. It's a disaster. We are sitting on a time bomb for both learners and teachers."
Authorities did not allow VOA into Arcturus Primary School, which is about 40 kilometers east of Harare.
Some students around Harare have been going to school since Monday to try to learn among themselves, as there are no teachers.
The teachers union warns that classrooms may turn into COVID-19 superspreaders. But Taungana Ndoro, director of communications and advocacy at Zimbabwe's Education Ministry, says the government has been working to ensure classrooms are safe.
"We have been putting in new infrastructure to ensure that we decongest the existing infrastructure to ensure that there is social and physical distancing for the prevention and management of COVID-19," Ndoro said.
"We have also made sure that our schools have adequate supplies of sanitizers and water. So, it is looking good. We have got single-seated desks now, instead of two- or three-seated desks. This is to encourage social distancing. We do not have bunk beds anymore in our boarding schools. We have got single beds and spacing of at least one-and-half to two meters. So, it is encouraging."
UNICEF Zimbabwe has been helping students and the government during the COVID-19 lockdown.
"The two-key approaches were, one: How we can support the loss of learning as a result of school closure. The second one was: How to keep the school safe and ready for children to return to school," said Niki Abrishamian, UNICEF Zimbabwe's education manager. "We managed to produce more than 1,600 radio lessons as part of alternative learning approaches. We had to look at how to take learning to the children, especially when they were at home and did not have access to schooling."
Zimbabwe's teachers hope such organizations can assist the government and supply the resources they require — adequate PPEs against COVID-19 and salaries that allow them to live above the poverty line.
Zimbabwe currently has 124,773 confirmed coronavirus infections and 4,419 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University, which is tracking the global outbreak.