Zimbabwe Education Minister David Coltart promised delegates attending the annual conference of the Zimbabwe Teachers' Association (ZIMTA) on 14 April that he would immediately terminate the possibility for parents to pay incentives to teachers, if the country’s teachers organisations would ask him to do so.
Coltart, who said to share ZIMTA’s concern about inadequate teachers pay levels, explained that the poor state of the Zimbabwe economy had left the country little choice to allow parents to top up teachers’ salaries.
Incentives that parents can pay to improve teachers’ salaries have become one of the most controversial issues facing the education unions of Zimbabwe. It is dividing teachers and has incapacitated access to education by the most vulnerable groups of our society, said ZIMTA President Tendai Chikowore in her opening address.
She stressed that it is not the responsibility of parents but the task of the government to ensure that teachers’ salaries, which currently are below the poverty line, be raised to fair and adequate levels.
Chikowore voiced deep concern about the shrinking national education budget. While in 1980 an average amount of US$6 was allocated per pupil, in 2009 this amount had dropped to US$0.70. As a result, the pupil-textbook ratio in urban schools has dropped to 1 textbook for every 10 pupils while in rural schools, there is only 1 textbook available for every 40 pupils.
The deterioration of the education system and the political tensions the country has been struggling with for a long time have caused an exodus of teachers. ZIMTA estimates that in the past decade more than 20,000 teachers have left the country. In 2009, according to Chikowore, 35% of the teacher posts in primary education and 33% in secondary education were vacant.
She noted that “teachers' morale sank to its lowest ebb since independence” and that any form of support for the reconstruction of Zimbabwe should recognize the need for support to teachers.
“Strategies are to be put in place to motivate them and help them cope with post traumatic effects of violence,” she said.
In that regard the ZIMTA President warned that “political parties should stop using schools as focal points for mobilizing their followership”.
ZIMTA, which is the largest education union in the country, has decided to work closely with the Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) to confront the many challenges the country’s school system is facing.
PTUZ's General Secretary Raymond Majongwe, who also addressed the conference, said he expected both organisations would soon be able to unite.
EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen, also present at the ZIMTA conference, asked government representatives “not to underestimate the important role teachers and education unions play in democratic development and nation building”.
"Teachers are not only the public employees that should be engaged in social dialogue, they are also professional educators, the intellectual spearhead of your nation, that have valuable contributions to make to the future of Zimbabwe. Please, listen to them attentively,” he said.
ZIMTA’s 29th annual conference was held in Harare from 13-16 Apr with some 250 representatives from ZIMTA’s provincial sections in attendance.
To read the full speech by van Leeuwen in English, please click on the link below.