RUMBIDZAI CHIZARURA FOR many years after Zimbabwe attained its independence in 1980, the education system was the envy of not only the African continent, but the globe.
The success of the education system is attributed to the numerous success stories recorded by Zimbabwean professionals dominating various sectors across the world.
Four decades later, the glamour associated with the education system is but a tale told by those who experienced that splendour.
While many reasons are attributed to the shambolic education standards, one major factor has been the disillusion of teachers – the professionals who are charged with driving the sector.
Teachers have, for the past decade, been engaged in a war of words with the government over working conditions, poor salaries and other issues.
To this end, school programmes have been disrupted with teachers boycotting lessons while some have gone on to the streets in protest over a host of grievances.
With less than a fortnight to go before schools open for the third term, teachers are threatening to boycott classes demanding the government pay them a minimum of US$540 per month.
Posting on Twitter, the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) indicated that schools will not open until the government meets teachers’ demands.
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Posting on the PTUZ_Official Twitter handle, the union said schools will only be opened on the “US$540 and not on the 6th of September”.
The PTUZ said: “Teachers have started receiving statements from banks. We can confirm that schools will open on USD540, not 6 Sept. We have tried to be patient, but the government takes us for fools. We are the only ones whose sectoral allowances have been ignored totally. We shall see. @RMajongwe.”
Teachers earn between ZW$50 000 (about US$94) and ZW$70 000 (US$132) per month.
In an interview, PTUZ research secretary Josiphat Gwezhira said the government was not taking their demands seriously, especially on pegging teachers’ salaries against the Poverty Datum Line (PDL).
“We do not believe we can open schools on the 6th (of September), principally because, firstly, we are broke and secondly, the US$175 the government continuously refers to is not enough to cater for a family of two,” he said.
Describing the local currency wages as “pathetic” and “dogs’ breakfast”, Gwezhira said teachers believe the government was trying to split civil service by giving other sectors more money through allowances.
“We have our own sectoral allowances but unfortunately nobody over the past two years has claimed these allowances because they are too low.”
He added: “For instance, the Advanced Level allowances and the responsibility allowances are pegged at ZW$25 and ZW$10, respectively. We cannot claim that money.
“We have tried engaging the government to raise those allowances but despite agreeing with the ministry and the Public Service Commission, the agreements are thrown into the dustbin at Treasury.”
Gwezhira expressed concern over examination classes which could be affected by teachers’ planned action against the low salaries and poor working conditions.
“Practical examinations are starting on September 13 according to our timetable but we are not likely to go back to the classrooms before the government reviews our salaries.
“We know Mtuli Ncube (Finance minister) has promised to review salaries around September but why not now in August? What are we going to use to go back to work when schools open? So, yes, schools are going to open on the US$540 and not on the 6th of September.”
PTUZ president Takavafira Zhou added that the government was undermining the education system and the teaching profession.
“Teachers are building a critical force that would respond to government callousness and starvation salaries in a concerted way. The discrepancies between teachers’ salaries and other government workers, is a cause for concern and teachers feel the government is taking them for granted as if they are of no account,” he said.
Zhou said the teachers were owed US$720 after being engaged as census enumerators among other frustrations.
Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (Artuz) president Obert Masaraure weighed in, accusing the government of making it impossible for teachers to report for duty through “starvation wages”.
“Mthuli Ncube has successfully strangled teachers and they are battling to breathe. The education sector will suffer as teachers will not make it to the classroom on September 6. Section 75 on right to education has been violated by Mthuli Ncube. Attaining Sustainable Development Goal 4 has been derailed,” he said.
“The workers and peasants must unite and launch a protracted class struggle demanding right to education for learners.”
Concerned parents have been embroiled in the war between government and teachers expressing anger that while they have religiously paid fees, students were short-changed. A parent, Jennifer Muzhwa said it would be unfair if teachers go on strike or boycott classes.
“It’s a big inconvenience to parents because schools demand fees and levies to be paid before classes start – no fees, no entry.
“We run around and ensure fees are paid on time only for children to go and sit in class unattended. It is unfair to our children as they are missing out on learning.
“The teachers then start working when it is towards examination time, of which a child goes to the next grade without completing the syllabus from a previous grade or class.”
Mark Lemwa, another parent, said the job actions put pressure on the children when teachers try to cover for the period they would have missed classes.
“The pressure may result in some children failing to grasp some concepts as some are slow and some are fast learners. Children will not have breaks as they will be given homework. This will also fuel the concept of extra lessons while straining our budgets,” he said.
Another parent, Norbert Smith, expressed concern over the effects of strikes by teachers, adding that education was a crucial part of society in which children’s livelihoods were founded.
“A service is offered by an education system and a fee is charged for such. However, many times the fees eat into a parent’s pocket, taking more than 60% of the wage” he said.
“This wage has many other priorities outside of the education role. When a teacher does not voluntarily provide for the services already paid for, the parent is cheated. The child has been cheated.
“Therefore, the disadvantage lies on the parent and mostly on the future of the child. Further to the failure of opening schools, it becomes a robbery of the child’s future,” Smith said.
He, however, conceded that the government system was not looking after the welfare and needs of the people in the education sector hence them taking such drastic measures.
Meanwhile, responding to the threats by teachers to down tools when the school calendar opens for the third term, Primary and Secondary School Education spokesperson Taungana Ndoro insisted that the government was adhering to the September 6 opening day.
“They (teachers) know what will happen to them. We all know what happens when one does not report for duty,” he said.
Teachers have been demanding the United States dollar salaries since 2020.
Previous calls for teachers to boycott classes have been ineffective as they end up going to work when the government either threatens to fire or suspend them without pay.
Government has warned teachers that failure to report for duty attracts severe consequences including salary cuts or loss of employment.