Education minister David Coltart has said teacher incentives will not be scrapped at the moment “even if some people hated over them” unless a lasting solution to retain teachers was provided.
Coltart, who was speaking at the Social Accountability Conference organised by the Bulawayo Progressive Residents’ Association over the weekend, said the incentives came about at a time when the Education sector was on the verge of total collapse as teachers left the profession in large numbers.
“When I was appointed minister 21 months ago, the Education sector was in total collapse,” said Coltart.
“Ninety thousand of the available teachers in the country were on constant industrial action, while over 20 000 teachers had already left the profession and crossed the country into neighbouring South Africa and Botswana for greener pastures. The reasons for the brain drain were poor salaries,” said Coltart.
He said when he approached the Minister of Finance for improved salaries for teachers as a stop-gap measure to retain the educators, minister Tendai Biti was really concerned over the issue, but said government had nothing in its coffers.
Coltart said provinces most affected by the teacher exodus were Bulawayo, Matabeleland South and North because of their proximity to South Africa and Botswana where teachers earn a minimum salary of R8 000 per month.
“When minister Biti told me that there was no money in the coffers, unfortunately I had no other source of money to keep our Education sector rolling.
“I am afraid the only way I noticed I could keep teachers around was through you parents as sources of money and that was through the introduction of incentives. However I will not scrap the incentives no matter how much you would hate me as long as there is no other intervention which may help keep our educators around” said Coltart.
Coltart’s sentiments came amid numerous complaints from residents gathered for the conference who said the incentives was a heavy burden on many parents especially those who are poor.
The disgruntled residents were calling for the scrapping of the incentives in view of Finance minister Biti’s $469 million allocation to the Education sector in the 2011 Budget.
They said the allocation should contribute to an increase in teachers’ salaries next year.
Recently, the Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe national organiser, Enock Paradzayi, was quoted as calling for the scrapping of incentives saying they were dividing teachers according to urban-rural and low-density and high-density location.
Coltart admitted that the allocation of additional funds to Education by Biti would improve the teachers’ welfare.
He however said the incentives were still the only way to retain staff.