SHUMBA Street in Dzivaresekwa is dirty, busy and colourful.
Children in green uniforms, others in red and white, blue and brown can be seen strolling down the road as they walk towards their respective schools.
It is now 8am, but most of them do not seem to be bothered by time although under normal circumstances they should be in class by 7.30am.
They let time pass, after all there is nothing to hurry for.
The school bell that used to ring signalling commencement of lessons ceased tolling a long time ago.
On arrival at their schools, the pupils do not head to the classrooms, but for the playgrounds where they engage in various games until somebody remembers that there are children at school.
The teacher arrives at 9am (she is early today) and the pupils are called into the classroom.
Not much time is wasted in the classroom and the pupils are given loads of work to do in English, Mathematics, and Shona before the teacher leaves to do personal errands.
The pupils are left to figure out for themselves how to tackle their schoolwork. The moment the teacher leaves the classroom, the pupils shove their books into their satchels and rush back to the playground.
They do not seem to be bothered by the absence of their teacher. They are happy that they are left to play, unaware of the consequences it has for them in the long run.
At least this class is lucky their teacher comes to check on them. Other classes are not attended to at all.
This for a long time has been the way most primary and secondary schools have been run in the country.
Children go to school to play and return home with empty brains.
Ten-year-old Nyasha, a pupil at Gillingham Primary School in Dzivaresekwa, said he does not mind repeating Grade 6 next year because he had not learnt much throughout 2008.
â€œMy teacher just comes and goes. She gives us work to do, sometimes we revise it, sometimes we donâ€™t. But most of the time we will be playing in the grounds,â€ he said, boasting that his peers refer to him as JJ Okocha when playing football.
A Grade 1 pupil this week said she was going to school just for the sake of it. She was not learning anything because of the absence of teachers. Most parents have resorted to sending their children to private tutors, some of whom are not qualified or do not have knowledge of the structure of the syllabus â€“â€“ leaving the children more confused and frustrated.
A qualified teacher said she had abandoned her job because of poor remuneration and has turned to buying goods at auctions and reselling them for a living. She vowed never to return to school until her demands for a better salary and working conditions are met.
â€œI am a Grade 7 teacher, but today I did not go to work. I find it better to sell my things and get the money that I canâ€™t get at work,â€ said the teacher who asked for anonymity, pointing to a pile of goods she was selling. â€œLook at that curtain over there. I am selling it for $12 000 and that is the money I get at the end of the month as a salary. This business is doing quite well for me.â€
She said there was chaos at schools as Grade 7 students â€“â€“ who were supposed to sit for their examination this week â€“â€“ were yet to be advised of the dates by the Zimbabwe School Examinations Council (Zimsec).
â€œEven if they were to write, what would they write? These children did not learn anything and who will invigilate them? We are not going to school,â€ she said.
Recently â€˜Oâ€™ Level pupils sat for fashion and fabrics and food and nutrition practical examinations without statements of entry. Some of the pupils had to be called from their homes to come and write the examinations because they were not informed of the dates in advance.
Zimsec public relations officer Ezekiel Pasipamire confirmed that pupils sat for examinations without statements of entry as they were still to distribute them nationally. He said Zimsec was yet to set dates for Grade 7, and for â€˜Oâ€™ and â€˜Aâ€™ level examinations.
â€œThe dates for Grade 7, â€˜Oâ€™ and â€˜Aâ€™ level examinations have not been finalised yet,â€ Pasipamire said. â€œThe examinations are going to be delayed and some of the reasons for the delay are beyond our control, as you know this year we had elections.â€
About two months ago, Zimsec employees went on strike and warned that the industrial action if not resolved swiftly would affect the 2008 examinations. However, the warning fell on deaf ears.
The Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ), a militant labour union for teachers, said its members would not return to schools until their salaries and working conditions are improved.
Teachers went on strike on September 2.
The union said a teacherâ€™s salary in August was equivalent to R33, meaning that teachers were spending less than US$1 a day. It said the average salary in the Sadc region was R7 000.
Â â€œTeachers are asking to what depth of poverty they should sink before government acts,â€ said PTUZ in a statement to mark World Teachers Day.
â€œWe remain steadfast in our demand for a minimum salary of US$1 200 converted to Zimbabwean dollars using United Nations rates. We are happy to report that finally teachers have gathered enough courage to insulate themselves from any amount of heat.â€
An estimated 30 000 teachers have deserted schools in the past two years frustrated by many years of neglect and threatened by the â€œhighly contagious povertyâ€ associated with employment in government, the PTUZ said.
The union said contrary to the common belief that teachers have left to teach in neighbouring countries, many were employed abroad as trade assistants in industries, some were domestic workers and others were still within the country.
â€œYou only need to go to Cheziya Growth Point in Gowke to see a senior and experienced teacher who is now a rank marshal and countless others trying their luck in Chiadzwa diamond fields in Manicaland while others have turned to prostitution,â€ the union said.
The union said close to 20% of the teachers were either sick or on sick leave owing to the HIV and Aids pandemic and this was affecting the education system.
According to a 2002 United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organisation survey, Zimbabwe will by 2010 lose a cumulative 55 000 teachers to HIV and Aids at best. In a worst case scenario, 60 000 teachers would die.
The PTUZ said in the past eight years, every school in the country had lost an average of three to four teachers to the pandemic.
â€œOur demand to the new government is simply that a â€˜Teachers Treatment Action Campaignâ€™ must be formed as a matter of urgency to address the serious HIV and Aids-related challenges teachers are facing,â€ the union said.Â Â
It said Grade 7, â€˜Oâ€™ and â€˜Aâ€™level examinations revealed another academic drama in the country.
â€œAs we speak the examinations authority (Zimsec) has not given students statements of entry to show the candidateâ€™s details and examination timetable. The marking of the June examinations was only completed two weeks ago as teachers boycotted marking due to poor fees paid to them by Zimsec,â€ the union said.
â€œIt is our well considered view that the 2008 academic year for primary and secondary education should be set aside and that the 2008 examinations should be cancelled. After setting aside the academic year all students should repeat their current grades.â€
The PTUZ suggested that there be no intake for Grade 1 and Form 1 and L6 pupils in 2009.
It challenged the government to appoint a committee to assess the state of the studentsâ€™ preparedness for the 2008 examinations if it doubted this position.
Because of the countryâ€™s chaotic education system, many people have wondered whether Zimbabwe would be able to attain the United Nations Millennium Development Goal of universal primary education by 2015.
By Wongai ZhangazhaÂ