Outcry over move to gag teachers

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BY TATENDA CHITAGU

TEACHERS unions have reacted angrily to plans by government to create the Teaching Profession Council (TPC) that will see teachers apply for an annually renewable teaching practicing certificate, saying such a move will gag and strip them of their bargaining powers for better salaries and improved working conditions.

The TPC Bill has undergone public hearings in some parts of the country.

The teachers vowed to mobilise to block the Bill from sailing through.

The Bill proposes an 18-member regulatory body, compels teachers to apply to the council for a practicing certificate, which is granted upon payment of a subscription fee and is renewed annually.

The Bill states that from the regulatory council shall come a registrar, acting as its chief executive officer, who may cancel registration of some teachers if they do not possess the prescribed qualifications; ceased to practice as a teacher or been de-registered or has been convicted of an offence involving fraud or dishonesty under this Act or any, among a raft of proposals.

The council may also cancel practicing certificates for teachers found guilty of any professional misconduct; declared to be of unsound mind under the Mental Health Act; obtained the practicing certificate through fraud, misrepresentation or concealment of a material fact and commits an offence under this Act or contravenes the code of ethics.

Progressive Teachers’ Union in Zimbabwe president Takavafira Zhou said while the TPC was a noble idea, the current Bill was defective and open to abuse by the State to punish dissenting teachers.

“The TPC is a noble idea, but the current Bill is defective. TPC must maintain the independence, autonomy and self-regulatory concept of the profession. Yet sadly, the current Bill flouts this with many members appointed from outside the teaching fraternity. Worse still, even the chairperson is appointed by the Education minister, thereby compromising the self-regulatory aspect of the profession” Zhou said.

“It focuses too much on disciplining teachers, with the disciplinary committee headed by lawyers. One wonders why a disciplinary committee of teachers cannot be headed by teachers. Worse still, there is virtually nothing about research and teacher empowerment, yet the 21st century education hinges on action research and production of teaching material by teachers. The processes of TPC must be teacher-centred and not ministry-centred.”

Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union in Zimbabwe, in its 2016 report on the TPC, said while there may be advantages on paper, in practice, it may be the opposite.

“There are advantages of joining a professional body which include improved lobbying for a better salary, the disadvantages are also there and many. For example, membership fees can be very expensive and, thus, it can become a financial toll. Professional bodies can come into conflict with trade unions in the sector, i.e. teaching. The TPC can push others out of jobs who do not have required qualifications (teaching qualifications) even though they have experience (could have been teaching for over five years),” the report read.

“Members have to commit to lifelong learning which will cost them a substantial amount of resources and time which given the salaries of teachers many cannot cope with. Members may feel obliged to volunteer to sit on committees and work groups which can be difficult when working full time and have family obligations.”