HARARE - A raft of changes being proposed in the education sector by Primary and Secondary Education minister, Lazarus Dokora, caused chaos.
Some support him, while others are seething with anger.
Since taking over the ministry last year, Dokora has announced several changes to the education sector, like banning teachers from complementing their low wages through holiday lessons because school children must be resting; withdrawing incentives for teachers and banning smoking by teachers in school premises.
But more controversial is the proposal to scrap teachers’ salaries for the three months they will be on holiday.
Dokora is really shaking things up, and now wants cameras installed in classrooms to monitor teachers.
The swaggering Education minister also wants sporting activities banned during the week.
Social commentators gave wide-ranging responses to Dokora’s proposals, with some telling the Daily News on Sunday that he was “confused” while others thought he was restoring discipline and order to the education sector.
Playwright Leonard Matsa says the minister means well.
“It however, appears his efforts are set to undo structures that have worked for ages and benefited even him,” Matsa said.
“His alternatives are not revolutionary but antagonistic to both teachers and parents. And the pupils are the casualties. For example, who does not know that some students are by nature slow learners and need more teacher attention?
“I am therefore doubtful his suggestions will survive in cabinet.”
Arts practitioner Josh Nyapimbi says it is okay for Dokora to scrap the holiday salary as long as the minister and his whole ministry will also not receive salaries during the said months.
Daniel Berejena, a writer, said teachers work more than eight hours a day, planning, preparing the lessons, and do the marking outside normal working hours.
“Does the ministry plan to pay them overtime if they are not to receive salaries during the school holidays?” he asked. “Teachers still work over the school holidays, especially to scheme, deal with enrollment issues, transfers etc. Will they be paid for such work?”
He said instead of withdrawing incentives, the government should introduce incentives for hardworking teachers.
“Naturally, there are fast and slow learners in every class, and the slow learners sometimes seek help through extra lessons. What plans does government have to ensure that the slow learners who have been benefiting from extra lessons catch up with the rest of the class?
“Government should instead develop a way of taxing the extra income teachers get from extra lessons. Installing cameras to ensure that workers are working must start with the politicians.
“How often are ministers out doing party work at the expense of the tax payer? How often do parliamentarians sneak out of parliament during debate, or sleep for that matter. In government offices, some officials just walk in, hang their jackets on chairs and disappear. Why should teachers be sacrificed?”
Berejena says sporting activities should be part of the curriculum, and said banning them during the week does not make sense.
“Where else in the world are sporting activities banned during the week? If sporting activities are to be done during weekends, will the teachers involved get paid overtime?” he asked.
Nyapimbi laughed off the proposal to ban sporting activities during week days.
“The minister needs to be reminded on the value of PSL (Premier Soccer League) to the economy of Zimbabwe and that all those players started playing at school,” he said.
“So he sees the value of the (soccer) World Cup on his TV set at home or in a pub with his friends and does not want to give our local talent the same opportunities in their childhood.”
He said the money he proposes for cameras to snoop on teachers must be used to get stationery or pay poorly-paid teachers.
Media commentator Rashweat Mukundu said Dokora was attempting to correct years of rot and decline in the education sector.
“While some of his plans and policy changes are good, he seems to be implementing these too hastily and without much consultation,” Mukundu said.
“The reason probably we still have teachers in our classrooms is because of the incentives that he wants banned. The changes are too drastic and may negatively affect education instead of helping in improvements.
“Our education does not need a tinkering with the surface but a complete overhaul and the minister needs a much broader policy approach that incorporates parents and guardians, education planners, schools, teacher unions among others. In this way whatever he proposes thereafter, will be out of consensus and he will receive support and not resistance as is the case.”
He however, said so far the minister was being too dictatorial and less consultative.
“He is breeding resistance and not consensus,” Mukundu said.
Media practitioner Tabani Moyo believes there is need for a holistic approach to turn around the education sector.
“This should be understood from the point of view that you cannot be successful in addressing the education sector while the other arms of the government are falling apart,” he said.
“Already, there is a handicap emerging from the poor civil service remuneration which results in low morale, hence the government must come up with comprehensive packages of rescuing this sad situation.”
Moyo said the government should not be seen to be further antagonising an already highly despondent civil service.
“The teacher has remained loyal to national service even when the economic situation continues to melt; it is like a thankless job of knowledge reproduction, of teaching the nation and being the second parents to the nation,” Moyo said.
“The proposals therefore further disenfranchise the profession,” added Moyo.
Anti-corruption campaigner and media executive Loughty Dube believes Dokora’s proposals do not add value to the education sector.
“Instead of coming up with measures to improve the lot of teachers, he is instead seeking to worsen their conditions,” Dube said. “He should emulate efforts by (David) Coltart as a minister.”
Arts practitioner Elton Mjanana says Dokora is trying too hard to have his presence felt. “Unlike Jonathan Moyo who in his second coming seems to want to be on the side of the people — the side that makes sense anyway, never mind the consequences — Dokora’s ultimate actions hurt both his standing and that of the education system,” Mjanana said.