The President of the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe, Dr Takavafira Zhou has said the 2020 academic year must not be declared null void even if it meant it resumes in January 2021.
Schools were prematurely closed in March when the country recorded its first coronavirus case and there are no indications as to when studies will resume as the country is still grappling with the virus.
We present below Dr Zhou’s statement in full.
Which Way Forward For the Education System in Zimbabwe
15 August 2020
After the heroic resistance by progressive teacher-unions to the reopening of schools without due consideration of the health, safety and welfare of pupils and teachers, the government now seem to have adopted a wait and see approach over the issue of reopening of schools. Rather than taking a pro-active role in preparing for reopening of schools, the government in general and Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education in particular, have taken a lackadaisical approach to the crucial issue of opening of schools. As Ptuz we have no regrets for the crucial and national role we played in resisting the reopening of schools. As much as we were blamed by some politicians and yellow unions, history has absolved us.
It is becoming more clearly that chances of opening schools this year are far fetched and remote. But even if schools are to open next year, there is a need for preparation towards that, let alone clarity over the 2020 academic year.
Our humble submission is that this is the time for the Ministry to make meaningful engagement with teacher unions in order to map an agreeable possible way forward. The health, safety and welfare of teachers and pupils remain crucial issues to be addressed before schools can open, yet nothing towards this is seriously considered by the government and line Ministry.
There are no clear plans to assist pupils other than homelitic bellicose and rhetoric of radio and television lessons. While the efficacy of such lessons is certainly undoubted, we wonder how this would become a reality in a country where 75 to 80 percent of areas have no television and radio frequencies.
Our sober reflections is that the country cannot afford to cancel the 2020 academic year even if schools open in January next year. Rather, pupils must be given an opportunity to learn for two to three months before they can write end of 2020 academic year exams. This can be followed by a 2021 academic year divided into two-three months learning terms and ensure that by end of 2021 we have rectified learning challenges emanating from COVID-19 related closure of schools.
Any other options could give permanent challenges to the education sector. There are those who argue for the cancellation of 2020 academic year. This would entail that there would be too many students for ECD and grade 1 classes in 2021 as the current pupils would be joined by other pupils in 2021 thereby posing infrastructural challenges. Such students will create permanent challenges every year, and after Grade 7, will create challenges associated with form 1 enrolment. It is our hope that the govt will learn from history and avoid the challenges faced during the early 1970s when both standard 5 and standard 6 were integrated and allowed to write end of primary education examinations without creating room for expansion and absorption of such pupils for form 1. Consequently, several pupils found themselves out of school.
It is also worrisome that the government is silent about the recently generated discrepancies between teachers’ salaries and other sectors in government. With a salary ranging from $3800 to $4200 (inclusive of allowances) all teachers have tested positive to poverty and are always scavenging for food. It is callous for government to ignore the plight of teachers at a time it is pampering other sectors with less qualifications, years of experience and responsibilities with salaries that are 5 times that of teachers. Government need to invest in quality public education and restore the purchasing power parity of the salary of teachers that was pegged at US$550 in October 2018. Anything less than this is unacceptable, degrading and monumental labour injustice. We have noted with concern how the government has used the moribund Apex Council for firefighting, romance and pulling cotton on the eyes of teachers. We, therefore, urge the government to do the most honourable thing by paying teachers US$550 that government unilaterally culled without teachers’ consent. Only well paid and motivated teachers living in safe environment can be dynamic and innovative even during covid-19 pandemic and find acceptable and safe ways to assist their pupils.
To all teachers, the time to unite and fight for an improvement of salaries and conditions of service is now. The time to see that Apex Council is a liability rather than an asset is now. This is a struggle that need everyone, male and female, tall and short, head and simple teacher. We either have to unite as professionals or else we will perish as fools.
By and large, the current parlous state of the education system is unenviable. Indeed, it is the so-called new dispensation that has allowed the education system to degenerate into the terminal ward. The officials in the Ministry of education lack the vision and power to drive the education system to greater heights particularly during the covid-19 pandemic. The government is indifferent and urinating upon teachers and telling them it’s raining. Extraordinary times call for extraordinary solutions. As managers of the world’s greatest asset, viz, students, we implore the government to plan for a robust improvement of the education system and pay educators well. Failure to plan is planning to fail. We will not stand idle by to witness cold and calculated educational vandalism. The time to plan for a credible education system is now. The time to pay teachers well is now. Teachers are workers too and must never be treated as second class citizens of Zimbabwe. We are in essence a vital cog of societal and national development and deserve best treatment by the state in order to engineer a skills revolution and benchmarks towards Agenda 2030.
Dr Takavafira M. Zhou (Ptuz President)