Impasse in education sector a recipe for disaster

Minister Cain Mathema

editorial comment

THE current logjam in the education system, where teachers have gone on strike at this crucial time when pupils are supposed to be finalising preparations for examinations due in a few weeks’ time, has a long history and raises a lot of questions about government’s commitment towards addressing problems in the education sector.

Before downing tools, the teachers had on several occasions tried to engage and make their employer appreciate their plight, but their grievances were arrogantly dismissed as part of the opposition’s regime change agenda.

Without sounding political, teachers have every right to demand restoration of their salaries’ purchasing power parity after being unilaterally reduced from US$550 in October 2018 to the current US$35.

The current salary situation has been aggravated by the absence of a robust collective bargaining forum, reducing government’s engagement with the Apex Council into a mere collective begging and fire-fighting platform.

The COVID-19 pandemic has added another layer of misery to the education sector, with schools now expected to source their own personal protective equipment and conduct regular tests on both educators and pupils.

Most institutions don’t have capacity to source these and yet government has commandeered teachers to report for work without due regard to their safety or face the proverbial axe.

Primary and Secondary Education minister Cain Mathema even threatened to replace them with temporary teachers.

It is clear that Mathema is acclimatised to self-pollination as opposed to cross-pollination of ideas and is destroying the future of our pupils.

That teachers are incapacitated is a fact. No amount of threat can capacitate incapacitated teachers. As such, it looks like there will be no respite in schools until the issue of a living wage is addressed and meaningful dialogue pursued.

Government must treat teachers in a more humane manner and realise that as much as teaching is a calling, teachers are human beings who need to eat and be able to send their own children to the same boarding schools now charging between $25 000 and $60 000 per term. Their wellbeing, let alone that of students, must be respected.

If government was, indeed, committed to improving the education sector, why is it that teachers are among the least-paid in the public service? Is it because theirs is not a noble profession like the army and police for instance?

Instead of wielding the axe on hapless and impoverished teachers, Mathema must confront his colleagues in Cabinet and demand better remuneration and sector-specific allowances for his charges.

His arrogance will only help inflame tension in the sector at the expense of our children who desperately need to make up for the lost six months they have been seated home due to the COVID-19-induced lockdown.