Teacher incentives can salvage the current education crisis

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File Picture of students in a class.

By Johannes Marisa
LAST week, I paid a visit to my former school, Zimuto High School, a Reformed Church of Zimbabwe-run school in Masvingo.

I have old memories of the highly-rated school which mentored many prominent people in our country since the days of the liberation struggle.

The discipline exhibited at the school is marvellous accompanied by the high standards of education that is admired by many.

All the teachers were on duty at the school despite the national kerfuffle about the strike.

Many questions lingered in my mind as I witnessed jovial teachers leading their learners.

All this was happening despite a directive by the Education minister to suspend all teachers who had not reported for work when schools opened on February 7, 2022. It is an unfortunate development considering that more than 80 000 teachers will be affected nationwide.

COVID-19 has been a menace since December 2019 when it was first discovered in Wuhan province of China.

The level of disruption on the political, economic and social fronts is unbearable.

The world economy tumbled while social amenities like schools, cinemas, sports, arts almost went into extinction. Schoolchildren suffered for a long time with very minimal lessons as coronavirus ravaged the world.

The closure of schools saw many children resorting to drug abuse, numerous cases of child pregnancies and early marriages were recorded.

There are high chances of sexually transmitted infections including HIV all a result of being away from school for some time. Boredom also creeped in affecting even young scholars.

Schools opened on February 7, 2022 after COVID-19 cases dropped to unprecedented levels. The incidence, prevalence, morbidity, fatality ratio, positivity ratio and overall mortality from COVID-19 also nose-dived in our country. Hats off to our dedicated medical staff that contributed immensly to the containment of the dreaded virus. It was short-lived joy for learners as teachers declared incapacitation.

That automatically spelt doom for the already-paralysed education sector. The teachers gave their reasons for failure to report for work. The reasons are understandable. These are  low remuneration, benefits and general lack of incentives.

The cost of living has lately sky-rocketed with the breadbasket now around $72 000. The salaries are surely not in tandem with the high cost of living.

There is general lack of motivation among teachers in Zimbabwe, with both intrinsic and extrinsic factors coming into play.

The end result is poor discharge of duties with the possibility of high failure rates for learners.

Our education should be restored to the old days when Zimbabwe was one of the most admired countries in Africa.

In April 2014, then Education minister Lazarus Dokora banned the payment of incentives to teachers by parents as he sought to restore sanity and equality in the education sector.

The issue of incentives had been introduced in 2009 when the salaries of teachers were still meagre.

The ban brought relief to parents who felt hard done by schools which demanded incentives for teachers after parents had paid tuition fees.

The incentive issue has remained taboo up to today although some schools have come up with so many names in a bid to conceal the issue.

Names like ”development fees’’ have been used at many schools.

Government argued that the incentives were unfair given that some schools especially rural ones were not getting anything at all.

Some school heads were accused of abusing funds, lack of accountability among other things.

In the year 2022 educators are in the same predicament they found themselves in 2009 when their salaries were meagre.

Can the incentives be introduced in order to close the salary gap?

Considering the situation on the ground where there seems to be deadlock between government and the striking teachers, it is my belief that as a temporary measure, incentives should be re-introduced to motivate our educators.

Government should allow schools to receive such incentives, but there should be a cap on the amount to be paid by parents.

It is disgusting to hear that there are some boarding schools that are charging as much as US$150 per student for “development fees” per term so that teachers can be paid incentives.

This is utter madness, it should be stopped and government should intervene and stop this madness.

Giving our hard-working educators incentives of about US$30-US$40 as once-off payment per term is reasonable while negotiations with government continue.

It is time parents, teachers and government collaborated in order to alleviate the plight of our teachers. Our children deserve good education.

Let us all work for the betterment of our country. All workers deserve better, be they in the private or public sector. National development comes from our effort!

  • Johannes Marisa is the president of the Medical and Dental Private Practitioners Association of Zimbabwe. He writes here in his personal capacity.