EVELINE Girls High, a former Group A school situated in the heart of Bulawayo has, among a host of challenges, is reeling from a serious shortage of learning resources while the teachers’ morale, like elsewhere, especially at government schools, is low due to poor remuneration.
The situation has been exacerbated by Education minister Lazarus Dokora’s decision to ban monetary incentives.
Students share textbooks and in the case of the history department, it is common to see as many as 40 students sharing a single textbook.
For a government that prides itself for its victory in a protracted liberation war against the Rhodesian settlers of British origin, it is ironic that a good number of the books at the school are a throwback to the Rhodesian era — complete with the date stamps to prove it.
“We know very well that some of the books were inspired by the colonialist historiography and as such the information they contain may in some cases have been replaced by new thinking.
“Retaining such books is therefore unhelpful, especially in the context of the current demands of the Zimsec history syllabus,” said a Bulawayo teacher who refused to be identified for fear of victimisation.
“We need books and other learning materials.”
A similar situation prevails at Townsend Girls High and Luveve High — all government schools which date back to the colonial era which are, however, comparatively better resourced compared to the former Group B schools, especially those in the rural areas.
These are challenges which need the urgent intervention of Dokora’s ministry before they can even think of turning their attention to other initiatives such as introducing the teaching of a whole host of foreign languages in the country’s schools.
Dokora is fiddling while schools burn.
Schools such as Maqaqeni Primary School (40km north-east of Bulawayo in the Ntabazinduna area of Matabeleland North), Hope Fountain (where President Robert Mugabe taught before Independence, two kilometres from Bulawayo’s Waterford suburb) and Umguza (two kilometres outside Bulawayo) have dilapidated classrooms, staff and textbook shortages.
It is not uncommon to find a single teacher juggling the teaching of two grades in the same classroom.
“It is such challenges that need to be addressed before we can think of introducing these foreign languages. The truth is that we cannot afford such luxuries when we cannot even ensure that students have adequate as well as the right textbooks for the subjects that are already on offer. We are just spreading ourselves far too thin,” said another teacher.
In addition, there is the story of Binga (Matabeleland North)’s poor education infrastructure which has already been told many times before.
The infrastructure has remained unchanged over years for the district whose estimated population is 200 000 people but has 80 primary schools and less than 40 secondary ones.
Many of the teachers are untrained especially in primary schools, and the limited number of secondary schools vis-à-vis primary schools contributes to discontinued education for students who graduate from primary schools.
Thus many children are forced into exploitative labour and gender inequality despite strong advocacy against child exploitation by non-governmental organisations that include Unicef.
Against such a background, Dokora has announced plans for the compulsory teaching of Chinese, Swahili, French, and Portuguese in Zimbabwean schools.
“The draft framework for primary and secondary schools will guide learning and teaching during the next seven years and it will include expression to national efforts as reflected in ZimAsset (the country’s economic blueprint), the constitution, regional and international treaties to which the country is signatory,” Dokora said two weeks ago while announcing the decision.
One only has to set foot in a classroom at Eveline and experience first-hand the challenges teachers have in teaching the subjects already on offer in the Zimsec curriculum to realise that this new scheme is premature.
Apart from the personnel, infrastructure and resource challenges cited above, government appears to be biting more than it can chew as it still has to implement other recently adopted policies including the teaching of Tonga, Kalanga, Venda and other local languages besides Ndebele and Shona.
Little has been done to acquire resources and personnel to implement that decision save for recruiting a small number of students to train in the languages.
There are currently 250 students being trained at Great Zimbabwe University for the teaching of other local languages — but this figure is a drop in the ocean given the thousands of schools around the country which will require such personnel.
Moreover, the ministry is still faced with a huge challenge of serious shortages of both teachers and textbooks for the subjects that are already in the curriculum, to say nothing of the general poor infrastructure in schools.
Against this backdrop of more pressing needs in the education sector, many hope the decision on foreign languages was just posturing on the part of Dokora who appears to enjoy the media spotlight.
Dokora is the same minister who has already come under fire after removing teachers’ incentives which helped boost morale by cushioning against poor salaries.
Last year, he also made puzzling decisions to bar extra lessons for students and the results were there for all to see — a 13,23% drop in the 2014 June Ordinary ‘O’ Level school examinations pass rate when compared to the 2013 results.
As noted by Takavafira Zhou, president of the Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ), Dokora needs to consult more and actually implement recommendations at the proper time instead of acting unilaterally.
“Instead of steering the ship along the recovery path crafted by the previous Minister of Education, David Coltart, the new ministry regime erroneously believes that intelligence resides at Head Office and operates through unilateral policies formulated without teachers’ and stakeholders’ input, let alone consultation,” Zhou said.
Since 2000 Zimbabwe has had to grapple with multiple and complex challenges due to the country’s social and political instability amid economic implosion.
Reaching a meltdown in 2008, the meltdown left everything, including education, in tatters.