Govt must make teachers a priority

Students from Dzingire Primary School playing at the opening of the second school term. The school lost 50 pupils, a headmaster, two teachers and a bursar to Cyclone Idai in March this year. Unicef, through the Ministry of Primary and Secondary is helping students to do psycho-social activities through games and dialogue to help them manage the trauma.

FINALLY, a member of Parliament saw the sense in discussing the farce in the education sector in the August House. After months of government pretending that all was well and that it had the situation under control, Magwegwe MP, Anele Ndebele voiced his concern at how the situation was developing.

Zimbabwe’s teachers have been claiming ‘incapacitation’ citing low wages, rising cost of living, a battered economy and a currency that is depreciating every day to demand salaries pegged in United States dollars.

Many have stayed away since schools opened last month and were joined by headmasters, who said their efforts to discuss their grievances with their employer were being ignored. Government’s response has been to implement a no-work-no-pay policy and suspend over 1 500 teachers and at least 50 headmasters.

It has also started recruiting teachers to replace the dismissed educators. This is despite the fact that the education sector was in need of at least 10 000 new recruits to meet demand.

Its response was typified by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s statement at a recent rally: “Teachers are teachers today because they were taught. If they do not return to work they will not be paid; my Cabinet has since resolved that we will only pay teachers who avail themselves at their workstations.”

So, teachers are not likely to get relief from this administration no matter how genuine their concerns are, which is also shared by the larger public service.

So, it is heartening that Ndebele brought the issue back in the spotlight. He had to raise a point of national interest in the National Assembly to point out that the government must urgently address the conditions of service of teachers.

“I express dismay and shock on behalf of all teachers in the country in the way we as government treat our teachers. We are talking of people who have invested years and hard-earned money to get the best education available and acquire the requisite skills, yet they are denied a living wage under the sun,” Ndebele said.

“I will tell you a fact that our teachers are now going for Red Cross training to acquire a mere healthcare certificate so that they can go overseas.  We must do something as Parliament to curb this brain drain as we are losing teachers.”

The government makes it clear that it does not take the issues raised by teachers seriously, and has so far ignored any overtures to hold talks to review their salaries.

Recruiting new teachers does not solve the problem because the new employees will face the same challenge of poor salaries and they will likely be declaring incapacitation soon. And we keep going in circles.

Government needs to resolve the impasse with the teachers and make improving their conditions of service a priority. The dissatisfaction by teachers speaks to the wider frustrations by other public workers and the poor state of the economy in general.

And government needs to wake up to the dangers of failing to deal with the challenges.