THE success story of educational institutions such as Anderson High School in Gweru in the 2013 Ordinary Level Zimbabwe Schools Examinations (Zimsec) is one that has been achieved through sheer hard work and a conducive working environment for teachers forged by cooperation among the staff, students and parents. It is feat realised in spite of, rather than because of, the contribution of the Ministry of Education now under Lazarus Dokora.
With an impressive 97,1% pass rate, Anderson came second to the all-girls Monte Cassino Secondary school (100%) in a list of top-performing schools, most of which are church-run.
The others are Zimbabwe Republic Police High School (96,58 %), John Tallach Secondary School (96,15%), Nyanga High School, the best performer in 2012 (96%), St Ignatius College (95,95%), Nyazura Adventist (94,63%), Regina Mundi Secondary School (93,75%), St Dominics (Chishawasha) Secondary (93,26%) and Kriste Mambo Secondary School (92,31%).
While these schools have built their impressive achievements on the back of technological innovation, a commitment to the Christian ethos of hard work as well as incentives for staff, these ingredients for success may well be eroded by a Education ministry seen as hell-bent on policies which obstruct rather than assist schools to excel.
“We have monetary incentives for teachers,” said Anderson headmaster Caxton Mukangasha in an interview with the Zimbabwe Independent, adding that “however these are not much and are certainly not the highest paid out by any school”.
“While these (monetary incentives) may be helpful, it is the non-monetary incentives undertaken by the school in co-operation with parents’ School Development Association (SDA) which have catapulted Anderson to being a top performer. Building on our baseline as a Christian school, we have an open door policy system with parents that augurs well for team work. And it is this policy that has allowed the parents to make crucial interventions that incentivise and motivate teachers to give their best in the education of students at the school.”
“Every teacher has a laptop computer,” said Mukangasha, “and all our classrooms have overhead projectors, enabling our school to become a veritable hotspot. Our sixth form students are all mandated to bring laptops but this is optional for juniors. We also have a joint venture in which parents, through the school development association, pay half and teachers pay the other half to have their own computers so that they can exploit e-learning to the full to assist students.”
This demonstrates the e-learning often spoken about by President Robert Mugabe, but with very little accompanying action from a hard-up ministry to make it a reality. Anderson’s is a case study of how parents can co-operate with schools to give monetary and non-monetary incentives to motivate teachers to give their best in assisting students achieve their full potential.
But it is such incentives that Dokora and his ministry have decided must go at a time when there is nothing to motivate teachers through salaries which at least match the poverty datum line.
Dokora has announced plans to scrap teachers’ incentives and re-train those already qualified as part of measures to improve the pass rate beyond the current 22% at Ordinary Level.
Among several interventions, the ministry has also decided to extend primary education to nine years from the current seven by adding two years of early childhood development, while they would be tested at Grade two and Grade six to test certain abilities, in addition to the Grade 7 examination. It is not yet clear when these measures would come into effect, but there is a feeling that the ministry should prioritise improving teachers’ conditions of service.
These, according to Takavafira Zhou, president of the Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe, are some of the “dictatorial and top-down approaches from the ministry without any consultation of the teachers”.
Zhou said despite all the talk there has been very little investment in education, a scenario which has left government schools “fossilised” in the twentieth century while education the world over has moved to embrace technological innovation such as that seen at Anderson and other non-government schools.
“It is an open secret that teachers are demotivated and they have mentally resigned from their jobs,” said Zhou.
“It is also a fact that teachers are not immune from Maslow’s hierarchy of needs which dictates that their needs for food, shelter and accommodation have to be taken care of before they can adequately fulfil their obligations in the classroom.”
Zhou also said government should look beyond incentives which can only be afforded by better off parents and give decent salaries and “universal incentives such as duty-free importation of vehicles like those enjoyed by parliamentarians. But instead this government has employed sanctions against teachers which have reduced them to a laughing stock among their communities.”
His comments about poor parents who cannot give teachers incentives or their own children the kind of technology to enable them to access e-learning are typified by the story of a government-owned school deep in rural Nkayi in Matabeleland North province which will not be named to protect staff from possible victimisation. Here the 2013 pass rate was about 5% and the very idea of teachers’ incentives and e-learning sound utopian.
“It is the sort of situation Charles Dickens had in mind when he wrote his nineteenth century classic novel A Tale of Two Cities,” said one teacher from the Nkayi school on the contrasting fortunes of schools within his district and the likes of Anderson and other top performers.
“Morale is very low because there have not been any moves on the part of government to honour its election pledges to substantially increase our salaries”, said a teacher who requested anonymity, adding “Dokora and the government need to improve salaries instead of coming up with hare-brained schemes to further alienate long suffering teachers”.
It certainly is unhelpful for a school to have 23 teachers untrained. However, this is not likely to be remedied any time soon as Dokora has announced plans to re-train those who are in the field instead of stepping up efforts to train more teachers, or to introduce incentives that could tempt qualified personnel to a backwater such as this one.
There are also fears if government goes ahead and stops teachers’ incentives, as it has mulled for some time now, morale at the best-performing schools would also go down and even the current 22% pass rate will decline as it did during the hyper-inflationary era when teachers deserted schools en masse.