Unpacking the Education Consensus

The Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ) inaugural National Congress held in Gweru from 7-9 January 2020, resolved to build an alliance between teachers and parents in a bid to protect the right to education for learners. The elected leadership has been religiously implementing this congress resolution but the intentions of the initiative are not well understood and received by many citizens. This article seeks to unpack the background and vision of the initiative. The article focuses on primary and secondary education.

Zimbabwe’s education sector post independence has been a source of national pride. The post independence government embarked on a expansion drive smashing the bottle necks which were the legacy of colonial education. New schools were constructed and a robust program for teacher training was rolled out. Teaching and learning materials were secured for all schools under the education for all government program.

Positive results were realised as Zimbabwe’s literacy rates have been impressive, consistently surpassing the 95% mark over the years. Our nation also produced skilled work force which has been sustaining production locally and we further exported some who have done exceptionally well abroad. The diaspora remittances we currently receive are clear testimony of the quality of the work force which we have exported as a nation.

In the early 90s the government adopted the ruinous Economic Structural Adjustment Program, ESAP which was prescribed by the International Financial Institutions. Under this program government was forced to cut expenditure on education and other public services.

Government was forced to engage parents in a cost sharing model for provision of education. The School Development Committee, SDC and the School Development Association were introduced as statutory bodies to manage funds contributed by parents towards education.

The majority of parents elected to lead the SDCs were found wanting as they were never trained to manage public funds. In most circumstances the School heads have a free role in managing funds. Cases of abuse of funds contributed by parents have been on the rise.

The government maintained the role of paying teacher salaries but failed to deliver during the economic meltdown of 2008. In 2009 parents assumed the role of supplementing teacher salaries through a government approved incentive scheme.

The incentive scheme was discriminatory as it favoured teachers in urban schools and boarding schools where parents could afford to pay the levies. Teachers in rural schools could not get much from the peasant farmers who were battling to put food on the table. This lead to low morale in rural schools and a drop in pass rates.

The scheme was scrapped post the inclusive government in 2013 but the government failed to pay a living wage for teachers.

The value of teacher salaries was severely eroded when the government introduced a local currency in 2016. Teachers who used to earn around US $500 were now earning ZWL $500 which was said to be of same value as the US $500 salary. This was a big lie which was endorsed as monetary policy.

The erosion of salaries continued unabated as the local currency plunged against the United states dollar. The coup government inaugurated in 2017 presided over worse erosion of teacher salaries until teachers were earning an equivalent of US $30 in December 2019.

Teachers are now resorting to conducting extra lessons forcing parents to pay them an unauthorised incentive. This has lead to the disenfranchisement of the right to education for the children who cannot afford to pay the teacher incentives.

Government has significantly cut spending on basic education, with education receiving around 11% of the 2020 budget. The Basic Education Access Model, BEAM which was supported to fund education for vulnerable children has not been receiving funding at a time when the majority of our learners are vulnerable.

In 2015 the government hurriedly produced a new curriculum which was imposed on our people without consultation. The government has failed to fund the implementation of the learning blue print. The curriculum demand the use ICTs and science laboratories which are not available in most rural schools.

The land reform of 2000 resulted in some families resettling in areas with no public services such as education. Learners are learning in disused tobacco barns and teachers are sleeping in thatched houses.

Zimbabwe has also endured a series of droughts and according to the United Nations more than half of our population faces starvation in 2020. In 2019 ARTUZ recorded 10 cases of learners who collapsed in class because of hunger.

Severe weather conditions have also resulted in the destruction of the obsolete school property and learners and teachers have died in some instances.

Climate change is therefore hampering access to education.

The ruling ZANU PF party has also been targeting teachers , school children and school property during election cycles. Teachers are victimised for failing to support the ruling party, school children are dragged to rallies to entertain ruling party officials and school property is abused in pursuit of private political interests.

It is clear from this background that the right to education is under threat from:

  1. Under funding by the government
    a) Poor salaries for teachers
    b) No teaching and learning materials
    c) Infrastructure deficits
  2. Corruption and Incompetence of School Development Committees
  3. Shambolic curriculum
  4. Climate change
  5. Political interference in schools

The right to education is protected in section 75 of Zimbabwe’s constitution but its realisation is in jeopardy because of the five ills raised above.

It is against this background that ARTUZ seeks to build community resilience to protect the right to education under these conditions . It is our firm belief that communities can rise and restore the legacy of Zimbabwe’s education. Our responsibility is to enhance community agency to protect the right to education.

Under the Education consensus our Union will set up education boards in all the 72 education districts in Zimbabwe. The education boards will be vehicles for advocacy for the right to education. We will push for the allocation of 20% of national budget towards education in line with the Dakar declaration.

We will push for the establishment of an education equalisation fund to address the infrastructure deficits. We further demand a rural retention attraction allowance to attract and retain quality teachers in rural schools.

Education boards will be composed of parents and teachers in a particular district.

Our union will roll out trainings to mitigate against the effects of climate change, which is also threatening the realisation of the right to education.

Education boards will push for the urgent review of the new curriculum and further lobby for devolution of education planning.

The safe schools campaign will be sustained to guarantee the holistic safety of learners, teachers and school property.

Education boards will facilitate the training for SDCs to enhance efficient expenditure of school funds. The board will further play an oversight role on expenditure of education funds.

Under the Education Consensus Teachers and Parents are coming together to pursue Sustainable Development Goal number 4 on inclusive access to quality education. The unity among teachers and parents is the revival of Parents Teachers Association.

Source: Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ)

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