25 May 2014

Zimbabwe: Lazarus Dokora Threatens Education System - Teachers

The article below explains why directives by the Minister of Education Lazarus Dokora banning private lessons and incentives to underpaid teachers among other things, will have a catastrophic effect on the education sector.

It calls for the re-introduction of holiday studies (vacation school).

The concept of vacation school was conceived in the early 70s. The practice has been part of our education system and is now a well-established method through which our teachers are able to discharge their mandate and perform as per their calling as moulders of our society through education. Because of vacation school, various students who previously had difficulties in grasping certain concepts through the normal school learning structure have been able to have extra studies and receive extra special attention from teachers. This has resulted in an increase in the pass rate and literacy in our country, an achievement which is recorded in national records. Many of us, including some prominent governmental officials, have directly benefitted from the use of vacation schools. Where we are today, we stand tall as a clear testimony to that effect.

At its inception, the concept was meant to prepare Grade 7 pupils for their public examinations and yet at the time they were only writing two subjects. Today, more subjects have been added; they are supposed to write five subjects with the introduction of Agriculture. Logic demands that we use vacation school now more than before.

With the introduction of Mass Education in 1980 and the advent of hot sitting, it became more than necessary to accelerate vacation schooling in order to cater for slow learners. Most of the students affected were and are still those from high-density suburbs who have an average of five learning hours per day. Holiday studies remove students from streets, giving them ample time to prepare for public examinations resulting in a marked improvement in results for grade 7, 'O' and 'A' levels. Conditions at home are in many cases not conducive for learning and studying, especially in high-density suburbs.

As indicated above, failure to have vacation school will result in:

l Mushrooming of and promotion of unregistered private colleges manned by under-qualified individuals, some who are teachers who have been discharged for serious and unbecoming professional misconducts like child abuse, abuse of public funds, just to mention but a few. Over the years, these colleges due to the need to make or earn more money, but with little or no respect for the quality of education obtained and the reputation of our education system, have aided the various scandals of exam leakages and corruption. These incidents are within the public domain. It is an undisputable fact that this has undermined public confidence in the credibility and transparency, if not effectiveness, of the Zimsec examination system. The government should take stock of the ownership of these private colleges.

l Students will have more time to engage in anti-social behaviour like drug and alcohol abuse and even prostitution. What kind of future generation are we trying to create? The child is the future of this country and if we are ever serious of establishing a better Zimbabwe and creating a legacy for a generation to come, then we need to give serious consideration to how we educate the child today. Sadly, it is the poor child, with a poor background who is being sacrificed on the altar of expedience and further thrown in the deep end of the poverty dustbin. Students in private schools are not affected and evidently, these are children from the elite society of our nation. They will in turn excel, come back and assume leadership positions. Below we explain why Dokora is wrong on banning incentives, selling of school uniforms and remedial lessons.

Incentives

Incentives were introduced to address meagre salaries which are too little to meet basic needs of our members. We wonder why the employer fails to realise that the 10% that should be paid based on the collected levies is even a mockery, if not insulting. Not only was the position illogical, but it was also a reflection of the minister's arrogance. It is not surprising that even the ordinary parent finds such a conclusion insulting and calculated to undermine the gains in education so far. Society need not go further than apply common sense and dismiss the proclamation without much ado. This is evidenced by a new system which emerged wherein parents went on to make separate agreements with teachers in accordance with their ability to pay. Incentives are a motivating factor, so the proclamation is out of touch with reality.

In fact, the concept of incentives has been in existence in private schools and its positive effects have historically been cherished by students from elite families. This has contributed significantly towards quality education in private schools and students from these schools occupy most, if not all top executive posts and offices in our country. Why should the sons or daughters of peasants be excluded from the benefits of such arrangements?

Selling of school uniforms at school

This was done in the spirit of maintaining colour shade, quality of uniforms and reducing the financial burden on the parents.

Parents would pay using a friendly or reasonable scheme wherein they would pay the purchase price in instalments, thereby making it easier for our economically burdened parents to buy school uniforms for their children. It was a sure way to ensure that all learners had uniforms and treated each other equally.

Private lessons

Private lessons are an arrangement between parents and teachers to enable those students who are slow learners to be given a one-on-one attention.

Has any one voiced concerns when individuals consult a doctor, n'anga or prophet of their own choice? What is sinister when a Zimbabwean teacher is consulted for tutorials after school hours? Some private lessons are even administered to adults.

It is a well-recognised principle in our law that two or more adults who have the contractual capacity have the freedom to conclude whatever agreement with whomever and on whatever terms they want or so desire and that such contract is valid and legally enforceable.

The only limitation is that they should be within the confines of the law. It is the individual's right, which no one including the state can unilaterally take away.

Extra tutorial/remedial lessons

Again, this was necessitated by the need to fill in the gap of lost time and to ensure that there is adequate revision for most of our pupils, especially those who are slow learners. Our curricular is academically oriented and we have accepted that as a nation. Therefore engaging extra tutorials enables us as a society to achieve the desired goal. Has it become criminal for a child from a working class background to excel?

Applying for MDL during school holiday/ vacation leave

This is an unfair labour practice. Teachers on block release are asked to apply for Ministry Development Leave (MDL) during vacation.

This further frustrates our members, having in mind that when they go on full-time study leave, they get half salary. We are aware that members from the Health, Defence and Home Affairs departments will be on full salary when they are on full-time study leave.

Lecturers go on paid sabbatical leave. Why should the teachers be treated differently and unfairly?

The above proclamations have serious effects on the status of teachers. Many have committed their salaries to the basics of survival, thus to be on half pay while studying would be a sting on the already fresh wound as they would not be able, even in the wildest imagination, to sustain themselves and their families.

We have practical examples where our members have been booted out of their lodgings and ended up squatting with relatives, making them the laughing stock in society.

Conclusion

We believe that we have made out a case that entitles us to the remedy that we are seeking for, that is, the withdrawal of the proclamation in toto.

We have managed to show that not only was the proclamation arbitrarily made without consulting the various individuals and stakeholders whose rights, interests and legitimate expectations will be adversely affected, but also, the discretion was used irrationally.

The minister failed to take into consideration the various rights of individuals which were likely to be affected; that is, the student and the general public as the ultimate result is the creation of a bottleneck education.

More so, we feel that these pronouncements seem to have a hidden agenda of causing anxiety and disharmony in the teaching fraternity, so that teachers become agitated and feel provoked, thus developing hurt spirit. Therefore, we demand an unconditional reversal of the stated unpopular proclamation for the good of our nation.

This paper was prepared by teachers who are dismayed by the minister of education's new policy pronouncements.

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