Spare a thought for Zim teachers

HARARE - Zimbabwe's teachers want government to give them more incentives to improve the quality of education but as the economy continues to wobble; their request seems like a pie in the sky.

Senior Assistant Editor Guthrie Munyuki (GM) speaks to Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (Ptuz) president Takavafira Zhou (TZ) and below are the excerpts of the interview.

GM: What is the state of industry at the moment?

TZ: The industry is so pathetic. The first thing is that we have a curriculum that was last reviewed in 1993, fundamentally.

Whatever happened after 1993 were nominal changes but the curriculum is out of touch with a lot of developments since 1993. Apart from that you also have an issue with funding. There is no political will in terms of funding education. Because in terms of the Dakar framework of 2000 and also even United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation recommendations, in terms of the budget of education, it must hover above 22 percent of the total budget and yet our budget is round 12-14 percent of the total budget. So even though our budget is struggling you can see that the allocation to the education system is so pathetic.

And consequently morale is very low. A number of teachers who physically remain in their stations have mentally resigned. Hundred percent of the teachers have mentally resigned although they physically remain in their stations which is a serious anomaly for any profession when you find that most of the people in the profession wish if they were not teachers to an extent even those who are going to the colleges the majority of them are people who have failed to get other alternatives and are just getting to teaching as a last resort.

So we are not getting the best in terms of vocational call as teachers. We have a serious problem of political interference in schools to an extent that a lot of village heads, chiefs, think that they have a lot of say in schools and that they can point that a teacher who was suddenly very good in terms of teaching is no longer good.

And we have a number of teachers who have been assaulted by parents. We also have political parties conducting political rallies in schools and this has left teachers vulnerable because immediately after political rallies, teachers are beaten.

Our point is very clear that no matter how many times you may visit a hospital, you don’t become a doctor.

Not only that, it is an international standard that we must spend $7 a month on a student in terms of development of a student yet in Zimbabwe we are spending even less than 25 cents a month or even zero cents a month on a student.

We have about four million students and we are not investing anything in these students. Contrary to a lot of these studies that are done in offices to an extent that we have 92 percent literacy rate we don’t think those studies are accurate. There are studies that are using statistics that were done 10 years ago and even that literacy is not functional literacy because if really we were 92 percent and the highest in Africa that must translate also in terms of production yet we are not seeing any productivity from that high literacy rate.

So such literacy rate that does not transform into productivity is a pointer to the aspect that something is wrong. Not only that, you have now four ministries. You have ministry of primary and secondary education, you have a ministry of higher and tertiary education Science and Technology Development, you have ministry of Psychomotor and you have ministry of Sport.

In our view, we need one ministry with four departments because we have a tendency now where we have a ministry that trains teachers but does not employ those teachers.

We need one ministry that can trace the potentials of students from infancy, to primary education, secondary and university.

And we then also need to now employ the Nziramasanga Commission that actually looked at the vicissitudes of colonialism that colonialism was tailor made to produce only a few students who would pass so that they would enter into clerical work with the rest becoming manual labourers.

But after independence it was just mass education with the majority of students now failing and we don’t have a fallback on what to do with this large number of students failing.

That’s why the 1999 Nziramasanga Commission recommended that we have a broader curriculum that would ensure that after Grade 9, or nine years in education system there would be others pursuing an academic path, others who would pursue technical and vocational path and pursue areas of their talents either to polytechnics or universities and the like with inter linkages that one could also move from vocational back to the academic or from the academic to the vocational which is not happening.

We see the creation of ministries as a way of rewarding cronies that are not doing anything in the education system.

GM: Have you had any constructive engagements with minister Dokora?

TZ: The problem with Dr Dokora and also the previous permanent secretary is that there were two centres of power in the same ministry with the then permanent secretary taking instructions directly from the President and whatever policies were done there were not coordinated, did not resonate and there was virtually a war.

Now we understand we have a new permanent secretary. We hope the permanent secretary and Dr Dokora will work together so that whatever agreement is made with the minister that agreement should be implemented.

We don’t know whether he (Dokora) has reformed or he has realised that he had messed so much so that he wants to give us an impression he is now ready for engagement. But we continue to see that whilst he maybe indicating right he is still turning left.

For example the government got money for manpower development and Dokora had said he would engage us so that we seriously debate who would benefit from the manpower development money but what we now understand from the provinces is that people have already been chosen and they have chosen those who do not have degrees in mathematics and science to pursue their education.

We have also heard that Dokora has gone to Sudan and he has entered agreements with the Sudanese government and he wants to send science and mathematics teachers to Sudan when already, internally, we have a shortage.

One then wonders whether he is interested in consulting us or taking our advice or he is taking instructions from elsewhere.

So I would say whilst he claims that his office is now open for engagement, not enough has been done so far.

GM: How many teachers are needed in the country?

TZ: Currently, we are aware as PTUZ that we need more than 10 000 qualified teachers, we are also aware that about 5 000-8 000 are temporary teachers. So when we look at the whole lot it’s about 19 000. We need to get those numbers to be in a better position because we believe that we don’t need to experiment with the human mind.

The human mind is to a teacher what the human body is to a doctor. And we have never heard about temporary nurses, we have never heard of temporary soldiers and yet we only hear about temporary teachers. We don’t envy that.

We want teaching to be a profession; a self regulatory profession. Not the current situation where the employer is the one who has crafted the regulations that are governing us in terms of Statutory Instrument 1 of 2 000.

When you look at the constitution, whilst in Section 65 all workers are given rights in terms of collective bargaining and in terms of forming trade unions, the government ambushes such rights and then creates a section for Public Service where even the salaries of teachers are determined by the minister of Public Service in consultation with the finance minister and the President of the country.

All we are saying is you are violating fundamental labour laws in terms of ILO (International Labour Organisation) convention 98, in terms of ILO convention 87 and in terms of ILO convention 156. We need to respect collective bargaining rather than the current collective begging.

GM: How much should teachers be remunerated?

TZ: When you look at regional payments in South Africa you would look at anything above $1 000. So anything between $800-$1 000 would be reasonable to Zimbabwean teachers.

But even if the government was failing it was supposed to show commitment that it would want the teachers to be paid highly because the tragedy is that currently teachers are paid at about 40 percent to 45 percent of their worth.

Now the tragedy is that would you also want them to operate at their level? When you want them to operate at 100 percent level and yet you are paying them between 40-45 percent of their worth, then there is something wrong.

GM: What is your plan to make sure that the livelihoods of teachers improve?

TZ: When we look at the issue of incentives, it’s not an issue of money per se. There are issues that government can do without necessarily pumping any money. For example teachers would want shelter.

It’s a basic need if you go to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. If the government would provide land whether serviced or unserviced and say we are giving teachers this land so that they can build their houses. That would be a plus on the part of teachers.

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