Candid Comment: By Nevanji Madanhire
WHEN Cain Mathema was airlifted from Bulawayo to Harare recently, it was clear he was a bit under the weather. That President Emmerson Mnangagwa has replaced him so quickly shows how seriously he takes the Primary and Secondary Education ministry. It will be everyone’s hope that the new minister, Evelyn Ndlovu, will hit the ground running, to use the good old cliché!
Ndlovu has her work cut out: the education sector is in a shambles, thanks mainly to the Covid-19 pandemic. But many would argue the sector has been in decline for a long time and the pandemic only worsened a situation that was already bad enough; what with the almost intermittent teachers’ industrial action over poor wages and the general shortage of tools that any school requires to execute the process of educating children effectively.
As Ndlovu takes over, she will be confronted with certain stark realities. She will have to deal effectively with the pandemic which has made schools the epicentres of the disease. It will be obvious to her that both teachers and learners are in a state of uncertainty over how the pandemic will pan out.
She will have to cool the temperatures and ensure that schooling continues. She will also have to deal decisively with the restive teachers, not only because the teachers’ grievances are deep seated and complicated but also because teaching itself has evolved.
The children have lost almost two years of learning due to lockdowns; the minister will have to figure out a new model of education that will take this into consideration. This should not be a rushed model as we have seen in the recent past where policies have been forced down the throats of both learners and teachers without research.
Schoolchildren, particularly adolescents, need rehabilitation.
What they have been up to in the almost two years of idleness is scary. Most have taken to drink and hard drugs and, as is always the case, the most affected have been girls. If the girls have not been married off, they have wandered into prostitution to survive.
The boys, mainly those in urban areas have taken to petty crime, to feed their newfound habits of drug taking. In the communal areas the boys have mostly joined the gold rush where life has dramatically altered their outlook. They have become rebels who might eventually morph into a national security threat.
Of immediate interest to the new minister will be the implementation of the new policy called “Continuous Assessment”. Whereas this programme has been recommended over years, especially in the Nziramasanga Commission report, it has been difficult to implement. The former minister kind of forced it onto the education system without the buy-in of the teachers. Ndlovu will have to revisit this and ensure that it doesn’t become an albatross in the neck of an already collapsing education system.