THEME: Teachers at the Heart of Education Recovery.
- Background of World Teachers’ Day
World Teachers’ Day (WTD) is held annually on 5 October to commemorate the anniversary of the 1994 adoption of the 1966 ILO/UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Teachers. This Recommendation sets benchmarks regarding the rights and responsibilities of teachers and standards for their initial preparation and further education, recruitment, employment, and teaching and learning conditions. It also contains numerous recommendations for teachers’ participation in educational decisions through social dialogue and negotiation with educational authorities. Complementing this landmark achievement, WTD also commemorates the adoption in 1997 of the UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher-Education Teaching Personnel which sets forth the rights and responsibilities of higher-education teaching and research personnel. With the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goal 4 on education, and the dedicated target (SDG 4.c) recognizing teachers as key to the achievement of the Education 2030 agenda, WTD has become the occasion to mark progress and reflect on ways to counter the remaining challenges for the promotion of the teaching profession.
- Theme: Teachers at the heart of education recovery. The United Nations (UNESCO) presented this theme for teachers’ day in respect of their determined and diligent efforts in the crucial stages of the Covid-19 pandemic.
COVID-19 challenges since the emergence of the pandemic constrained education systems in various new ways resulting in a revision of how teachers teach and more generally work. Around the world, teachers are working individually and collectively to find solutions and create new learning environments for their students to ensure that learning could be continued. In most cases without much warning and with little time to prepare, teachers have had to modify or condense the curriculum and adapt lesson plans to carry on with instruction, whether via the internet, mobile phone, television, or radio broadcast. In Zimbabwe where there is poor or no connectivity to the internet or mobile networks, there is great need for innovation and creativity never before attempted in order to keep children engaged and learning. Over the past two years students have effectively learnt for two terms, while the current Upper 6th have learnt for only a term. Centralised interventions to assist students have been greatly restricted in Zimbabwe given technological limitations in internet connectivity, radio and television frequencies and learning gadgets. Face to face learning has also been inhibited by increased covid 19 cases. Under conditions of uncertainty and despair more than 30000 female students have fallen pregnant since beginning of 2020. Part of the evidence of collapse of education include the decline of pass rate from 46.9% in 2019 to 37.11% in 2020 (7.79%) at Grade 7, from 31.6% in 2019 to 24, 8% in 2020 (6,8%) at ‘O’ level, from 83,1% in 2019 to 81% in 2020 (2.1%) at ‘A’ level. Our dysfunction 89% literacy rate is also a cause for concern.
It is within the above quandary that teachers are geared to systematically tap and harness their intellect in order to assist students during this covid 19 period and even beyond. Some teachers in Zimbabwe have long tried to continue to assist learners by even posting audio lessons, others check/ed-in with their students through class and subject WhatsApp group lessons. Without much guidance or pedagogical support from government and education authorities, the frontline workers of the education sector are showing great capacity and flexibility to adapt to an ever-evolving situation in order to keep children and youth learning. Teachers are an icon of knowledge, the most influential forces for quality education and development, and a source of awareness and enlightenment. They nourish their students with their wisdom and teach the real skills of a successful life to children. Despite being the true pillars of a successful nation, they are not given the warm gratitude which they deserve, and their status and working conditions remain worrisome.
The roadmap for the new agenda, the Education 2030 Framework for Action, highlights the fact that teachers are fundamental for equitable and quality education and, as such, must be “adequately trained, recruited and remunerated, motivated and supported within well-resourced, efficient and effectively governed systems.” Sadly, the post-Mugabe govt in Zimbabwe has largely adopted neo-liberal policies that in essence are causing suffering of teachers.
- The Status of Teachers in Zimbabwe
The status of teachers has continued to decline with an eroded salary of US$520-US4550 in October 2018 reduced to the current equivalent of US$130-US$175. The threat of covid 19 has not generated any reasonable support for new pedagogical paradigms, with gvt failing to prioritise mandatory testing for teachers, pupils and ancillary staff before re-opening of schools, let alone placing covid abatement equipment in schools. There is, therefore a quantum leap of covid cases in schools, with many boarding schools reduced into quarantine centres, while several day primary and secondary schools have simply adopted a system of sending away pupils who test positive to covid 19 on sabbatical holiday for two weeks. As such, instead of celebrating the work of dedicated teachers around the world, on 5 October 2021, we are mourning the demise of the teaching profession, with monotonous regularity, from grace to grass. The constant attacks on teachers by education officials, threats of dismissal, government austerity measures and the evil of poverty have cumulatively created anxiety and uncertainty among teachers. Teachers are marking the 2021 World Teachers’ Day on empty stomachs, unable to pay school fees for their children, unable to report for work due to incapacitation, and unable to wear decent clothes and live in homes with minimal comfort. As we mourn on World Teachers’ Day 2021, we must take time to look at the future of the profession and the current status of teachers in Zimbabwe. Below are indicators that the profession has lost its lustre, and teachers are greatly incapacitated and their voices, muzzled.
a. Command and control tactics: The post-independence thaw in the education system under the enlightened Ministers (Dzingai Mutumbuka and Fay Chung) has evaporated under Samuel Mumbengegwi, Aenias Chigwedere, Lazarus Dokora, Paul Mavima and Cain Matema. The adoption of command and control tactics has seen many toxic, prejudiced and narrow-minded reforms pushed down the throats of teachers without their adequate engagement. Some such hap-hazard muddling and meddling commandist experiments include the unilateral alteration of teachers’ vacation leave in 2015, adoption of a defective curriculum in 2017, the unilateral gvt reduction of teachers’ salaries, the re-opening of public schools without covid abatement equipment and running water, and the threat to dismiss incapacitated teachers by Minister Matema.
b. Defective curriculum: The new curriculum remains as of old poorly supported by the provision of teaching materials and in-service training. More than 75% of schools have no electricity, let alone computers, yet the curriculum makes ICT compulsory.
c. Fast Tracked CALA: Ministry officials have defied logic and common sense by imposing cumbersome CALA without a national budget, development of assessment tools, standardisation and interoperability, and adequate time. In its present form CALA will benefit neither the student, nor the teacher nor the education system.
d. Poor Remuneration and economic meltdown: Teachers are faced with a situation where their own children cannot access services, they are offering because of exorbitant fees in boarding schools that are beyond their affordability. Teachers’ salaries are nothing but starvation wages.
e. Unfair Labour Practice: Teachers are treated in a discriminatory, degrading and servitude manner as other government workers with less qualification, responsibilities and years of experience are now receiving salaries that treble and even quadruple that of teachers.
f. Collective Begging: Against the international best practice of binding collective bargaining and social dialogue outlined in ILO Conventions 87, 98, 151 and 154 and contrary to section 65 of Zimbabwe Constitution (2013), teachers have no forum for collective bargaining. Gvt has now adopted a system of purported negotiation where there is virtually no negotiation. Constant lies have been peddled by PSC and several timelines given have expired without ameliorating the deteriorating conditions of service of teachers.
g. Overloaded classrooms: Bloated classes have remained the order of the day in schools thereby creating challenges of social distance in this covid 19 infested period, while failure to recruit more teachers compromise WHO standards of 1:20 teacher-pupil ratio.
h. Working conditions: Teachers are working under poor conditions of service especially in public schools without electricity, and comfortable office chairs, tables and safe drinking water sources.
i. Living conditions: More than 72% of teachers are lodgers and do not own houses of their own. Accommodation in most public schools is pathetic. It is not unusual in some rural schools for 12 teachers to share a two- roomed house with an outside pit toilet.
j. Exorbitant Transport cost: As many schools have no institutional accommodation for teachers, transport costs in some cases is even more than the salary. The Ministry officials as well as PSC expect teachers to incur debts in order to go to work which is uneconomic.
k. Lack of political will to invest in education: There is no political will to invest in education as outlined in the Darker framework and UNESCO developmental budget where more than 22% of the total budget must be allocated to education. Currently, we are allocating as little as 12.7%.
l. Lack of prioritisation of health and safety: Although gvt claims to have released more than $12.5 million towards acquisition of covid 19 abatement equipment for schools, that money has not filtered to schools that are now hard pressed to provide PPES. Worse still gvt has resisted the testing of pupils, teachers and ancillary staff before re-opening of schools thereby leading to the current quantum leap of covid cases in schools. Worse still, not a single teacher has benefitted from covid 19 insurance of US$650 for infection and US$1000 for covid 19 related death.
m. Insulated Bureaucracy and false assumption that intelligence resides at Head Office. There is also heavy dependency on self-proclaimed education experts at HQ.
n. Increased cases of suicides: Zimbabwe has over the last two years witnessed an unprecedented increase of suicide cases in the education sector across the ten provinces. Such cases that have claimed students, teachers and school heads are attributable to stress and the Ministry of Education’s lack of dynamism to equip both teachers and students with stress management skills, is puzzling. The Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education has adopted a business as usual approach in spite of such high suicide cases. Not even rudimentary research has been done and we will continue to lose many students and teachers.
The protection of decent employment and work conditions is the basis for fair labour practice. Social dialogue is the basis for industrial harmony and productivity. In the absence of constructive dialogue and in light of inherent starvation wages that have cumulatively reduced teachers to mere slavery, the critical role of teachers for educational recovery in Zimbabwe may remain illusory. Indeed, no meaningful teaching and learning can ensue in an environment where poverty, bloated classes, lack of teaching material, fear and uncertainty are ever stronger than the desire for educational improvement, teachers’ innovation and ingenuity.
- Way forward
It is our submission that the status of teachers and professional appeal of teaching should urgently be restored through constructive dialogue between government and teachers so as to afford the latter an opportunity to reconstruct the education system. We urge government to:
Restore the status of teachers through payment of October 2018 salaries pegged at US$520-US$550.
Prioritise health and safety of teachers and pupils in schools.
Adequately engage teachers and other stakeholders in policy formulation, reform and implementation.
Implement forthwith education sector specific benefits/allowances such as non-payment of tuition fees by three children of every teachers, bloated class allowance, composite class allowance, ECD allowance, class teacher allowance, etc.
Urgently provide land to teachers for accommodation purposes.
Put in place a proper collective bargaining regime in order to enhance social dialogue and productivity.
Pay reasonable rural and hardship allowances for teachers based in rural areas.
Establish a properly constituted, autonomous, independent, self-regulatory Teaching Professions Council driven by an enabling Act of parliament in order to look into the values and ethics of the profession
Suspend cumbersome CALA until an opportune time in 2022 or 2023.
Establish public schools that are safe, welcoming places for teaching and learning. Schools must be politics-free zones and no teacher must be a victim of political bullying, harassment and violence for whatever reason.
Provide adequate resources for the successful implementation of new curriculum.
Ensure that teachers and school staff are well-prepared, are supported, have manageable class sizes and have time to collaborate so that they can meet the individual needs of every child.
Empower teachers through research and publication of textbooks and other teaching-learning materials.
To our fellow colleagues and compatriots PTUZ urges:
Unity, education, agitation and mobilisation for status restoration. We can differ in terms of our persuasion and still unite around common professional goals. There is therefore need for a new paradigm shift by educators in order to defend the profession, restore leadership role of teachers and secure a better future.
An education sector specific bargaining chamber as our best foot forward as opposed to compromised Apex Council.
Resistance to government pursuit of austerity measures, polarisation, privatization and deprofessionalisation
On this important day when we are mourning the demise of the status of teachers in Zimbabwe and under siege from covid 19 pandemic, we also want to remind the government that it remains the biggest threat to the development of quality public education system in the country. Constantly threatening to dismiss teachers and failure to listen to their professional advice is a recipe for disaster. Engaging in constructive dialogue with teacher unions can ensure that reform initiatives are supported by the very people who have to implement them. A serious-minded government can draw on the knowledge and experience of thousands of teachers serving in every corner of the country, and devise smart policies that can resuscitate teachers’ leadership roles and intrinsically motivate them to play a vital role in the recovery of the education system and enhance development. We, therefore, urge the government to ensure that our schools should become centres of our communities, and to respect the voice of teachers as they are closest to the classroom rather than pushing educational reforms down their throats. Through this way we can fulfil public education’s purpose as a propeller of our economy, an anchor of democracy and a gateway to economic, social and ethnic justice. This can only be achieved with well-paid and empowered teachers whose environment promotes professional innovation, dynamism, freedom and growth. Teachers must therefore be supported to regain their leadership roles and provide a skills revolution that can foster sustainable development of a nation.
For our profession, we must!
For our dignity, we must!
For our children, we must!
For the betterment of our nation, we must!
For our freedom and empowerment, we must