On 28 September 2020, the Government of Zimbabwe unilaterally ordered the reopening of schools without meeting conditions set by Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ) and other unions in the education sector. The ill-timed move was bound to fail and the past week has proved the arguments submitted by ARTUZ and it’s compatriots to be true.
After almost six months of closure due to the Coronavirus pandemic, reopening of schools was always going to be a challenge. The first hurdle has always been the salary crisis which has ranging on since the grand theft of October 2018. To date teachers are earning just 17% of the understated total consumption poverty line which is set at a modest 17, 000 by the government. Industrial action was thus inevitable given the rising cost of living and redollarisation of the economy. The knee jerk and inadequate 40% offer from government only serves to anger the restive teachers who are simply demanding the restoration of October 2018 salaries.
Secondly, the Coronavirus safety measures such as face masks, social distancing and hand sanitizers are an essential requirement for schools to reopen. However the government has failed to make these important essentials available thus risking the lives of teachers and learners.
Against this background, teachers have since embarked on a nationwide industrial action which has all but crippled the education sector and rendered the ill-informed reopening by government impossible. To add insult to injury, the government has continued to misinform the nation on the state of the education sector. Predictably, the government has also resorted to age old tactics of threatening mass sacking of striking teachers.
The government responses have only served to exacerbate the crisis and we urge the responsible Minister to remove his head from the sand and face reality. Teachers are incapacitated to undertake their duties because of meager salaries and the schools lack the necessary equipment to provide a safe environment in the wake of COVID19. This is the reality on the ground and must be addressed.
In the past week, 98% of teachers across the country have failed to report for duty because they just can’t afford to do so. The majority of learners have also registered complaints, calling on government to postpone examinations until they have been able to complete their syllabi. They have further called on government to provide essential equipment to protect them from Corona virus and also to pay their teachers adequately. In addition parents are also up in arms with government on it’s approach to the crises facing the education sector. It is a matter of time before this situation implodes and government must perform it’s role with urgency and resolve this crisis.
ARTUZ maintains that to effectively reopen schools; teacher salaries must revert back to the US$520 average salary. Further infrastructure to allow social distancing must be constructed while essentials like masks and hand sanitizers must be made available. Without these, schools will remain all but closed and continued neglect will lead to implosion.
Source: Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ)