At its 26th Annual Conference which took place in April, EI member organisation the Zimbabwe Teacher’s Association (ZIMTA) called on its government to address the severe political, social and economic problems that are leading to massive brain drain of professionals.
In her speech, ZIMTA President Tendai Chikowore deplored that large numbers of trained or prospective teachers are leaving the country every month for neighbouring countries such as South Africa, Botswana and Namibia, even those farther afield like Australia and New Zealand.
"We can only ignore that negative trend at our own peril," she warned.
Zimbabwean teachers' salaries have not kept up with hyperinflation, despite the government's promises. Teaching was once a profession that guaranteed a middle-class lifestyle, but now teachers are living below the poverty line. In February 2007, ZIMTA and other public service unions took industrial actions to demand higher wages and benefits. Though a favourable settlement was reached with the government, the increases have now been rendered insignificant by the sky-rocketing inflation rate, currently at over 3700%.
As a result, skilled workers are now leaving the country en masse, and among them, teachers.
Recent graduates seldom consider teaching as a career due to the low wages, and if they do, they opt to teach in another country. Even people who have spent their whole life teaching are leaving Zimbabwe to become household helpers or service employees in countries with higher income such as South Africa or the UK.
According to Chikowore, the current phenomenon of Zimbabwean teachers leaving the service in large numbers is of great concern to ZIMTA: "The nation is losing valuable human resources, the cream of our human and technical investment. School-leavers only take up teaching as a last resort when there is nothing else better on offer, and that is bad for the future of Zimbabwe."
EI recently reported the death of the founder of the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ). MacDonald Mangauzani died on 27 May, and it has been suggested that his death was caused by the internal injuries sustained from brutal torture while in police custody last February. In addition to the low wages and difficult working conditions, the oppression of teacher unionists and the violation of teachers' rights by the Mugabe regime contribute significantly to the rapid acceleration of brain drain.
Education International fully supports ZIMTA's efforts to improve the status of teachers and create an environment where teaching is once again a noble and attractive profession. EI has also developed policy on the issue of brain drain and will again address the issue at the forthcoming EI World Congress in Berlin in July 2007.
For more information on the issue as well as the EI Congress resolution on brain drain, please visit the web section on the Status of Teachers: www.ei-ie.org/statusofteachers