38 years of independence: Reflections from Zimbabwe’s education sector

This article originally appeared in the Zimbabwe Communist Party quarterly journal ‘Vanguard’ Vol.2 Issue 5 (1st May 2018)

Zimbabwe commemorated 38 years of Independence at a water-shed moment in our history. This year’s Independence Day came at a time when the dominant figure since 1980, Robert Mugabe had become a relic of

history following the events of November 2017. The 38 years of Zimbabwe have been an era of mixed fortunes; Zimbabwe started off on a promising note only to wind up becoming a failed nation.

One of the worst affected sectors in Zimbabwe’s total collapse has been the education sector. At Independence and for many years after, the education sector of the country was one of the sources of pride for the nation yet today it is mired in an unprecedented crisis.

Quality of education

At Independence, the policy of the new nationalist government was to increase access to education for all as a way to correct the imbalances of colonialism. New schools were built, textbooks were sourced, a free education policy was implemented and all Zimbabweans were offered an opportunity to pursue education. Then the education offered real opportunities for learners to take up careers in government and the in private sector.

However, starting from the late 1990s, the quality of education started to plummet due to a number of factors. Among the key causes of the collapse in the quality of education were limited funding and failure to adjust the curriculum to the needs of the economy. Post 2000, the situation in the education sector reached a crisis point on the back of the economic crisis emanating from a cocktail of reasons including government failures, the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme, international isolation and the increased demand for education in a growing population.

The fast track land reform programme resulted in a huge population influx in former white-owned farms which became resettlement areas. Resultantly, the number of schools became overwhelmed as the population of formerly sparsely populated areas increased significantly. This led to the establishment of over 5000 satellite schools to cater for those areas. The satellite schools were and still are largely dependent on the parent schools for services and examinations.

As the economic meltdown continued, education all but collapsed and in 2008 almost all schools came close to closure.

It was during the tenure of the inclusive government that a degree of normalcy was restored to the education sector through a combination of donor resources and direct parental support through the incentive scheme. The go-it-alone ZANU(PF) régime which succeeded the Government of National Unity (GNU), scrapped the incentive scheme and undertook a raft of measures which eroded the gains of the GNU era.

Of all the counter policies implemented by the ZANU(PF) régime, the most damaging were the new curriculum and austerity measures which involved a salary freeze for teachers, the illegal scrapping of teachers’ vacation leave, plus a recruitment freeze. The new curriculum was largely resisted by a wide cross section of society as it was rightly felt that the whole process was a political ruse by the ruling party.

As such, teachers resisted its implementation and after the obdurate Lazarus Dokora was sacked as Minister of Primary and Secondary Education by President Mnangagwa, the government implemented a review of the curriculum including some concessions around tasks given to learners.

Teachers’ welfare

It is common cause throughout the world that the teacher is the driver of the education system and as such the state of the welfare of the teacher becomes a direct reflection of the education system. Whereas at independence, teachers were revered members of society, they are now being ridiculed because of their poverty and generally poor conditions of service.

It is also common cause that the most affected sector of teachers are those working in rural outposts and by extension the rural learners. It is against this reality that the Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ) was launched in 2013. The key thrust of this movement is to ensure that rural education issues are brought to the fore of policy making.

One of the pillars of principle and strategy of ARTUZ is unity and solidarity, and in this vein it started to engage other unions to convince them on the need for a collective voice. This vision was achieved on 19th March 2018, after lengthy deliberations at Zimta House in Harare the Federation of Zimbabwe Educators Unions (FOZEU) was born.

The immediate task of FOZEU was to organise a leadership march to Munhumutapa Buildings and hand over a petition of grievances which needed immediate attention and also to give express notice of a strike action. This was realised in the historic march of 27th March 2018 which included the leadership of all the major education sector unions.

Government then started employing their familiar divide and rule tactics by calling the now defunct Apex Council for negotiations as a way to continue to stifle the voice of teachers and by extension their welfare.

ARTUZ, therefore, is making a clarion call to all rural teachers to remain vigilant and refuse to be cowed until our demands for 100% salary increment, 75% of salary as rural allowance, total depoliticisation of schools and restoration of vacation leave are met.

We must realise that as teachers we are the fountain of knowledge and the aquifers of learning for the children of Zimbabwe. As such we must stand firm and remain calm, even in the face of apparent selling out by some sections of the trade union movement.

The strike is still on !!

Come second term and until our demands are met we will not open schools !!

Obert Masaraure
National President
Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe
+263776129336
obertmasaraure@gmail.com

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