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Teachers’ Strike a National Catastrophe

PRECIOUS, who routinely misspells her name, is a 15-year-old Form II student at a secondary school in Matabeleland South Province.  Her communication skills are non-existent.  Her response to questions is usually in two phrases: “Akula” (there is nothing) “angazi” (I don’t know).

At Precious’ secondary school, 149 students enrolled in forms 1 to 4 share two classrooms and had only two teachers before two interns joined towards the end of last term.  The two classrooms have potholed blackboards and floors.  There are no desks and benches to talk about.  For every subject taught, there is only one worn out textbook per 40 students.
A third of the students at this school travel no less than eight kilometres every school day to get to school.  They are invariably hungry and tired by the time lessons commence.
At year-end, an average of 14 schoolgirls drop out of school due to pregnancy.  In the majority of cases the boys who are responsible for these pregnancies will themselves have dropped out of school either at Grade 7 or after failing to register a single pass at ‘O’ Level.
The teachers who are attempting a difficult task with limited resources have no accommodation at the school.  They too walk for five kilometres every day to get to school.  Their miserable working conditions could be ameliorated if they had basic teaching apparatus like manila sheets, magic pens, chalks, plan books etc.  
The role of teachers in any country, particularly a developing one like Zimbabwe, is crucial.  Teachers hold the future of the country in their hands.  The success or failure of a country to produce a competitive and sustainable human resource base is dependent on the whole education system of which teachers are a pivotal element.  It is self-evident therefore that teachers need to operate under conditions in which intellectual nourishment is assured.  Teachers should be exposed to information, as they are the one-stop source for knowledge that our students desperately require.  Their conditions of service should ensure this.  Decent remuneration for teachers should be a priority, fiscus realities allowing.
Precious’ school can be found in many parts of Zimbabwe, particularly in rural areas.  This is a national disaster.  We have already lost a generation of Zimbabweans who have lost out on education.  The cost to our country is enormous.  How are we ever going to catch up with the rest of the world that is moving ahead so fast as it produces daily in its classrooms youngsters who enhance the competitive edge of their countries as they invent one technological gadget after another?
Some of our kids who live in provinces that border South Africa have had problems viewing schooling as a source of prestige.  Their teachers cannot attain the material status that has been achieved by “injiva” who come home from down south driving the latest Navaras.  The “mansions” that these  “injiva” have built push teachers further away in the status rankings. And yet we all know that “successful” as these people might seem to be, they cannot be our youth’s role models.
As South Africa’s own economy begins to experience both internal and external pressures our people cannot hope to find the same kind of relief that they have received in the past by seeking refuge down South.  In one village alone, near Precious’ school, 23 young people have come back from South Africa after failing to get jobs in the past 12 months.  I am raising all these issues for one reason only: to beg Zimta to help stem the national disaster in our education system by calling off the strike.  
One need not go into the merits or demerits of the teacher’s demands — that is a moot point.  Nor should one raise the issue of the country’s economic realities — that too is a moot point.  What is the real issue in my view is that we risk in all this ending up with a backward country where the Preciouses of Matabeleland South do not have a snowball’s chance in hell of being anything else other than ignorant mothers at a young age.  Ignorant mothers invariably give birth to ignorant children who in turn raise their own ignorant families.
I plead with Zimta to call off the strike because all of us as citizens of this country have to take responsibility for its rebirth — particularly during this interim period when the normalisation of our country should take precedence over everything else.  Industrial action is the stuff democracies are made of, no one disputes that.  However, at this juncture our motivation should be to give Precious a fighting chance to make it in this difficult world: education helps in this regard.
I plead with Zimta to go back to the classroom and robustly engage parents to also take interest in the education of their children.  It is true that some parents are already bearing a heavy load for their children’s education — that is commendable, all of us have to play our part.  These are our precious children after all, this is our country’s future and these are our assets.  
We are all angry in our country. We have been angry for a long time.  Some do not like the current political arrangement in the country, others like it, some are indifferent.  For the sake of our children, we have one common objective: their education.  The negative debate about why Zimta now calls for a strike when it did not do so in the past is a mere reflection of the polarised past we come from.  That is not a useful discourse.  The reality is that Zimta represents a constituency that feels aggrieved, and it is an important constituency at that.
Finally, I plead with Zimta to call off the strike because the damage to the future of our children as well as to our country’s recovery opportunities will be such that this country might not be competitive again for a long, long time.


Paul Themba Nyathi is MDC director of elections. He writes in his personal capacity.

By Paul T Nyathi

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