A Basic Human Right
NYDT notes with disappointment the continued deterioration in the education system which has seen thousands of young people fail to get a decent education in the last decade and lately to even sit their examinations. According to the universal declaration of human rights, education is a basic human right. Article 26 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights reads:
“Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be made equally accessible to all on the basis of merit”
Going carefully over this provision, one cannot but be amazed at how much of this basic right has already been violated in Zimbabwe, more so in light of the fact that, Zimbabwe’s founding principles saw the building of more schools in the first two decades of independent Zimbabwe than ever before, education is a tool towards the nation’s sustainable development.
However for the past five or so years the situation at schools and at tertiary institutions has grown from bad to worst. Teachers have gone on intermittent strikes which became almost perpetual in 2008 when thousands of these loyal servants continued to say that they had had enough and decided to render their services in other countries.
This left classrooms with no instructors and forced students to put school on hold. Very few children in Zimbabwe except those learning at private schools can really say they had at least one month of learning in 2008. 2009 has a similar tale only told differently. Consequently education has become a privilege for the economically stable, not a right for all.
Educators’ Salaries not good enough.
Teachers like most civil servants receive a minimum salary of $140, an amount enough to be thankful for but not enough to survive on. This has brought about the very touchy subject of incentives which have in turn led to cases of child abuse and corruption at schools. Reports of children being forced out of class or to attend lessons facing the back wall of the classroom are just but the few accounts of shocking but factual tales on how the situation has since spiraled downwards.
Civvies days are now popular events at schools, a means of fund raising that has caused a lot of tension between teachers and school heads, the latter almost always being accused of mismanaging these funds which are meant to be shared by all but which at most times never reach the schools’ expense accounts.
Some of these professionals have found ways to clandestinely supplement their meager earnings by starting briefcase companies that supply stationery, school uniforms, student identity cards etc in order to turn around and be the providers of these much needed resources at their schools. A story is told of one school that is forcing students, even upper sixth form pupils in their final term, to buy a new design of school uniforms.
The company reportedly supplying this new set of uniforms apparently belongs to the spouse of the school head. Such is the financial predicament facing school personnel which has boiled down to as far as school text books, furniture and building material like window and door frames, asbestos etc being stripped for resale to willing buyers.
The formation of the Inclusive Government (IG) brought hope to many Zimbabweans that finally problems in this sector would soon be a thing of the past. Even teachers that had gone AWOL returned to re-register their services with the ministry of Education Sports and Culture, but to their disappointment hundreds if not thousands of them have still not received a single cent as salary.
This is killing the good will and commitment that our teachers have in the system and is causing students that once looked up to the teaching profession to ridicule and shun it. Zimbabwe will very soon have a shortage of teachers if the profession continues to be shunned by trainees and professionals alike.
It was unheard of fifteen or even ten years ago that students would go on to study A’ level using the results of the previous year’s mid year internal exams. This has become the norm in Zimbabwe and no one is raising any qualms about it. Even worse is the fact that most of our students are now applying to South African Universities using mid year internal exam results.
No one even worries to think that at most schools teachers are not even bothering to set or mark internal exams. It has fallen outside of their job description, until further notice of substantial salary increase. How sure are we then that our young people are capable of what we claim but have not adequately tested
their capabilities on?
As for the official examination of students, God knows that this is yet another disaster. Almost always the Zimbabwe local examination body (ZIMSEC) has problems with the leakage of exam papers, issuing out of the wrong results , or issuing of results that students did not even sit for and of late failing to get the exams marked on time if at all.
More threats in this area are emerging as the Chronicle of 16 November 2009 (Monday) Reported that teachers are threatening to boycott the invigilation of final year exams after the official school term closes on 4 December. The examinations officially begin on 26 November and should end on 18 December, about 14 days after schools close. The teachers are thus demanding extra pay for the 15 days they are supposed to be on holiday but will instead be working.
Higher Education under serious threat Tertiary institutions have not been spared the trauma as lecturers also cannot cope with their working conditions or financial status and have on several occasions gone on job action. As we speak, first semester lessons at the National University of Science and Technology (NUST) have not started for the 2009/2010 study period because lecturers there are on strike.
University students themselves have protested several times against high tuition fees, disturbing the flow of studies at these institutions with dozens of students being forced to leave school for indiscipline and misconduct after leading these protests that have often turned violent.
What happened to the days when Zimbabwe had just one university which was able to churn out the best brains not only in Africa but also in the world? Now we have more than eight universities but with little capacity to produce results as good as the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) in its solitary but hey days would produce.
Now that most of the old school trained graduates have left Zimbabwe for greener pastures and those that continue to study are either choosing to do so in other countries like South Africa, Malaysia, Australia, the UK and so forth, what does the future hold for Zimbabwe?
Will our Universities be able to produce competent professionals able to work in any field in any part of the world as was possible in the past, or are we producing the basic literacy proficient student that will leave school and work in manual jobs or choose to get into dealing because the irony in Zimbabwe is that lately it pays better to be casually employed (Kiyakiya) than to be in formal service. Is there a guarantee that the students that are pursuing further studies in these countries will return to serve here in Zimbabwe?
For young people the future is uncertain because unlike in the past when a few would fail to pursue their studies because they either could not afford to or they just were not interested, lately it is a matter of not affording and the system not being capable of handling the demand for education that is in the country. There is more demand than supply that is why those who can would rather learn outside Zimbabwe or through long distance education.
Who is responsible.
Since young people are the greatest victims of this tragedy, we beg to know who is responsible for this mess. Is it the Inclusive Government which on the one hand is crying foul over “illegal sanctions” being imposed on Zimbabwe while on the other is pointing out that the political environment is negating investor confidence and hence there is not enough revenue generation to pay civil servants or resource our schools?
Mind you this business of finger pointing is one appalling example of leadership. We need someone to admit that they have messed up. Messed up the educators, messed up the payroll, messed up the curriculum and examining system and consequently messed up our future.
Zimbabwean brains were never meant to be harvested by other countries which are now appreciating our skilled men and women more than our own Government. Neither were they meant to be wasted away on manual jobs both home and abroad as Zimbabweans continue to leave so called executive positions in Zimbabwe to take up manual labour positions in countries like the UK and South Africa.
It is no different here where well educated young people find themselves going for decades without employment in their fields of practice, forcing them into the same but even lower paying manual jobs locally. These brains are meant to be invested here in Zimbabwe, to develop her and grow her into an economic power house that future generations can reap endless opportunities from.
NYDT calls upon government to apply urgent active measures to rehabilitate the education system, or else Zimbabwe will soon have no brains left to drain.