THE countryâ€™s education crisis deepened this week after teachers refused to mark last yearâ€™s public examinations and many government schools failed to open for the first term.
Sources in the Zimbabwe Schools Examinations Council (Zimsec) told the Zimbabwe Independent that marking of the 2008 â€œOâ€ and â€œAâ€ level examinations started on Monday with less than 1 000 teachers out of the required 10 000 turning up for the exercise.
This, the sources said, could see results of the examinations released as late as May.
â€œOut of the 10 000 teachers needed only about 800 took the offer to mark the examinations,â€ one of the sources said. â€œThe markers are under pressure and we expect results to be out in May.â€
The source said results for the June 2008 â€œOâ€ and â€œAâ€ level examinations would be released in a fortnight.
â€œMarking of Grade 7 examinations was completed, but the machine used to capture data is down and this has delayed the release of the results. We need to import spares for the machine,â€ the source added.
Normally results for Grade 7 are released before the end of the third term to allow pupils to secure Form One places, while â€œOâ€ and â€œAâ€ level results are released in February.
The failure to release Grade 7 results on time resulted in government postponing the opening of this yearâ€™s first term by two weeks from January 13.
Many of the schools which opened on Tuesday did so without Form One pupils because the results were yet to be released.Â Â Â Â Â
Most government schools failed to open on Tuesday after teachers pressed ahead with the strike they embarked on last year demanding to be paid in foreign currency.
The Zimbabwe Teachers Association (Zimta) and the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) asked their members to stay away from duty unless and until government conceded to their demands.
The teachers are demanding a monthly minimum salary of US$2 300.
A snap survey by the Independent in Harare and Bulawayo revealed that most government schools did not open.
In Dzivaresekwa, Harare, a few pupils could be seen strolling to school, while in other areas like Mabvuku, Mabelreign and Highfield some were turned away as there were no teachers.
Schools that were open, among them Selborne, Avondale and North Park, had made arrangements with parents to pay teachers in foreign currency.
In Bulawayo, some school authorities told pupils to return home as there were no teachers.
Gates at some schools were locked and only groundsmen were manning the premises.
The turnout of pupils at most day schools was generally low with a few seen milling around the school premises.
Children from boarding schools had by Wednesday started returning home after they did not find teachers at their respective schools.
Education Sports and Culture ministry permanent secretary, Stephen Mahere, in a press statement this week admitted that most schools had not opened for business, save for Trust schools and other private institutions.
He said: â€œThe ministry would like to commend schools which made arrangements for their students and teachers to have a smooth start of the term. It has been observed that, on the whole, the term started satisfactorily with virtually a 100% attendance in Trust Schools, Uniformed Forces Schools, some mission and former Group A Schools.
â€œConsequently, all teachers are urged to report at their respective schools. In this regard, parents are also advised to send their children to school.â€
Zimta president Tendai Chikowore vowed that the teachers would not report for duty until their demands were met.
â€œIf we say we are opening schools, we will be lying. We are not going back because we are incapacitated and hungry, and thatâ€™s it,â€ said Chikowore.
She urged teachers to be tough and not to be intimidated by state security agents, adding that this would force the cash-strapped government to act.
She also took a swipe at teachers who took part in the invigilation of last yearâ€™s examination after Zimta had resolved to shun the national examinations.
â€œOur decision has to be uniform. They (government) should have recruited their army officers and brigadiers to officiate in the examinations. Donâ€™t be drawn into a flawed process, and in future check with your organisation first before making such big decisions,â€ Chikowore said.
PTUZ president Raymond Majongwe said teachers would not be forced into submission, but will continue to fight on until their demands were met.
â€œOur position has been clear from the start, we are not going back and we will not be cowed by the government. If we attend schools we will be defeating our own struggle, so we are not teaching until our demands are met, period,â€ said Majongwe.
Majongwe said he was pleased with the teachersâ€™ cooperation saying it was for the first time they responded favourably to their call.
International agency Oxfam country director Peter Mutoredzanwa warned that opening of schools could lead to a new upsurge in cholera cases.
He said many schools were dilapidated and did not have clean running water or basic toilets, which were vital to prevent them from becoming breeding grounds for the disease.
BY WONGAI ZHANGAZHA AND HENRY MHARA