FEW Zimbabwean parents still remember the promises made by Aeneas Chigwedere on being appointed deputy Education minister in 2000, when he said: “I feel I have come at the most opportune moment for one main reason, that the Nziramasanga Report which c
ontains radical changes in education is being considered for implementation. I have been clamouring for changes in the education system. I feel I will assist the minister to forge the education system so that the youths will benefit.”
Now the changes he intends to make are radical in the wrong direction.
Stakeholders predict Zimbabwe’s education system would reach the pitch of disintegration if the proposed Education Amendment Bill that seeks to repose unrestrained powers in the minister rather than address pertinent issues to halt deteriorating standards is allowed to pass through parliament.
Human rights lawyers, teachers’ unions and associations have urged MPs to throw out the Bill as it is deemed detrimental to education.
The Education Amendment Bill 2005 has heightened public anxiety that government wants more control over the education system by curtailing freedoms and privileges enjoyed by education administrators, particularly in privately-registered schools.
Stakeholders view the Bill as a sinister desire by Chigwedere to avenge what he lost in a court battle against private schools over fees charged by introducing the Bill.
Last year, outraged parents shot down Chigwedere’s directive for all schools to prescribe one uniform. Parents also turned up their noses at an arbitrary ministerial directive to rename schools arguing that the costly exercise did not add value to the education system.
The proposed legislation vests more powers in the minister to determine who these schools can employ. The ministry is also empowered to determine the levies that schools can charge.
The Bill has raised the hackles of both human rights lawyers and teachers’ representative associations. The amendments also impinge on the right of both church-run and private schools to recruit staff of their own choice.
The Bill empowers the minister to determine what school uniforms children should wear and what association a teacher should belong to.
Human rights lawyers say the amendments raise serious concerns as they impinge on some provisions under the Convention of the Rights of Children and the African Charter on the Rights of the Child.
The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child places the onus on governments to respect the rights and duties of parents to choose their children’s schools, other than those established by public authorities.
In contravention of the African Charter, the Bill seeks to reinforce zoning regulations which determine what school a child can attend.
Rangu Nyamurundira of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) says the proposed law effectively denies parents the right to enroll their children in schools of their choice and whose fees they can afford.
“The Bill raises concerns coming as it does after government last year closed 46 schools in a bid to control school fees in contravention of the provisions of that Charter which it ratified,” Nyamurundira said.
The Amendment Bill seeks to punish schools which fail to comply with ministry directives on school fees and levies by arbitrarily dissolving school development committees, or placing the schools under direct management of the ministry.
Dissenting schools also risk being de-registered.
Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) secretary-general Raymond Majongwe says his union is not happy with the proposed amendments.
Majongwe says the proposed amendments are nothing more than “the ministry’s misplaced desire to extend needless control over education”.
“The prescription of fees charged by non-governmental schools will cripple these schools considering that it takes more than six months for the minister to decide what fees are to be paid,” says Majongwe.
The PTUZ suggests a commission comprising representatives of these schools and senior ministry officials should be set up to deliberate on the fee increases.
Majongwe says it is not only these amendments that concern the PTUZ but the new Labour Bill that takes back the teacher to the Public Service Commission where teachers are proscribed from becoming members of a trade union.
“It’s more political than professional.”
He said the ministry was failing to keep its finger on the pulse of what is going on in schools and failing to manage them as illustrated by the widespread sexual abuse of students at Macheke government school.
“The ministry has a lot on its hands which needs attention other than seeking to control who private and church-run schools employ.”
The combative teachers’ union says the ministry should direct its energies towards improving conditions of service for teachers. Teachers with disabilities receive no special allowances.
For instance, a blind teacher has to employ an aide in order to execute his/her duties efficiently. Such a teacher is required to pay the aide from his meagre salary.
Another amendment to the Education Act that is on the cards seeks to recognise more representative associations for teachers.
Observers say instead of making efforts to implement recommendations contained in the 1999 Nziramasanga Commission Report into Education and Training , Chigwedere has launched a vigorous assault to break the spirit of private and church-run schools.
The commission recommended a nine-year compulsory basic education (junior school) cycle for all pupils in order to cultivate the habits, attitudes, interests, skills and entrepreneurial opportunities which would prepare them to be good citizens and provide
them with a good foundation for training in occupations of their choice at senior school and beyond.
It also recommended an outcomes-based curriculum which is broad-based in terms of subject offerings and which focuses on learning areas, employment related skills and other essential skills to be developed across the curriculum.