A recent government directive forbidding unqualified teachers — estimated to comprise as much as 60% of the staff complement at rural schools — is causing severe disruptions to education.
“It is surprising that the government has chosen to stop temporary teachers from resuming duty this (third) term, when it is well known that they form the bulk of teaching staff in rural areas,” said Janet Chikawa, a teacher at a secondary school in Seke district, about 50 km south of Harare.
“At my school 10 untrained teachers did not come back, and as a result, six subjects are not being taught. Students spend most of their time doing nothing,” she said.
She added that stopping the temporary teachers also means overstretching the few qualified teachers, since they are now forced to teach extra subjects, some of which they did not study in college.
Chikawa and her colleagues have been demoralised by the extra workload, while their $150 monthly salary has remained unchanged.
She said some teachers were asking parents to pay extra in the form of chickens and maize, especially for pupils preparing to write final exams in the next month.
Raymond Majongwe, secretary general of the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ), said the government directive was “a complete disaster”.
The Zimbabwe Teachers Association (ZIMTA) estimates a ratio of about 40 pupils to one teacher.
“There is a growing trend whereby the government makes decisions that harm students, and we wonder who has advised the authorities to bar temporary teachers. Rural areas are the hardest hit, and the more remote an area is, the less the number of qualified teachers there are at schools in that area,” Majongwe said.
He said they were informed that there are schools where there were no teachers at all, particularly in such provinces as Mashonaland Central, Matabeleland North and the Midlands, because all the teachers there were unqualified.
Zimbabwe’s education system — once regarded as one of sub-Saharan Africa’s finest — has been hit by numerous shocks since 2000, brought on by the country’s rapid economic decline, political violence, and the resulting migration of qualified teachers to neighbouring states such as South Africa and Botswana, as well as further afield to countries such as Britain.
“It would be a miracle to find qualified teachers to fill the gaps left, but even if that were to happen, it would confuse the students, because a new teacher will not be able to ensure continuity in the learning process,” said Brighton Jaricha, a senior teacher at a rural school about 90 km northwest of Harare in Mashonaland West Province.
“I also foresee a situation whereby the government will reverse its decision, but it will be too late and there will be much confusion,” he said.
He said teachers may decide to go on strike because their salaries are still low, and there are no indications that they will be better any time soon. If that happens, it will reverse whatever little gains could have been made in education from 2009.
The disruption in schooling is confusing Simpson Machaya, 10, who wants to return to school for the third term but instead is helping his father, a fresh produce seller, to tend their vegetable garden and milk their single cow.
“My son is pained that he is not attending school with the other children, and when he is not doing household chores he reads everything that he can lay his hands on because he loves school so much,” said his father, Simon Machaya.
“It is unfortunate that Simpson, just like many children from this area, cannot attend school because the teachers who were teaching them have been told by the government not to report for duty. There is no problem with school fees because some NGOs are taking care of that,” Simon said.
Humanitarian organisations run numerous education support projects, from assisting parents to pay school fees to providing school uniforms.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) recently donated 13 million textbooks to 5 500 schools throughout the country, and also supplied free exercise books.
“The numerous efforts by the humanitarian community to help our education system are encouraging,” Majongwe said. “But for as long as the government does not put its house in order, they will count for nothing.”