Monica Mpambawashe, Creative Editor
REMUNERATION for most formally employed people is not making much financial sense in Zimbabwe at the moment.
Civil servants are probably at the worst end of the spectrum as the private sector seems to be adjusting allowances periodically.
We managed to see 2019 through with threats of industrial action by teacher-representative organisations remaining vows of intent, but as we head to the 2020 school year beginning, one has to wonder if we can sustain another year with the situation in hand.
It is undeniable that there is an urgent need for Government to ensure that civil servants get meaningful salaries. Ideally, for teachers this should happen by the time schools open in mid-January to ensure the school year starts on the right note.
Grade Seven results showed a dip in pass rates and the actual number of candidates.
Several people, including representatives from teacher organisations, blamed this on poor remuneration.
They illustrate how the teaching profession has tumbled from near pole position on the social desirability ladder several decades ago. Several teacher union leaders use this in their argument for better remuneration in the education sector.
Putting that argument into context, teachers, nurses and other civil service workers appeared to be rich in comparison with the rest of black Zimbabweans who were blue collar workers or not employed at all. But civil servants did earn enough money to live on, invest in meaningful pension schemes, educate their children and upgrade their lifestyles.
So while it is no longer realistic for teachers to aspire to be the cream of the working world, they along with all other civil servants, are entitled to meaningful earnings.
The dip in the Grade Seven pass rate is a cause for concern, with the possibility that the trend could be repeated in the imminent Ordinary Level and Advanced Level results.
A school head in Harare said teacher disengagement over salaries that happened years ago has long lasting effects and the nation should try by all means to avoid repetition of the same scenario.
“Let’s not forget that the current O’ and A’ Level candidates were affected at delicate stages of their learning at the end of the previous decade when the education sector was in shambles and teachers had stopped working. Most primary schools had to go the extra mile to ensure that those children did well at Grade Seven.
“But the detrimental effects of that lost learning time is something that has affected their whole school careers since and can have a negative effect on their O’ and A’ Level results.
“Government, school authorities and parents should all come together to prevent the same scenario happening again. Things are already not going right in the schools and we cannot afford to continue turning a blind eye to the impeding catastrophe,” the school head shared with this writer.
Silent industrial action in effect
In November 2019, a man went to a former Group A Government-owned primary school in the southern part of Harare.
There, he told a teacher that he had come to inform her that Pupil X had missed several days of school due to ill health and still needed a few more days in bed to recuperate.
“X? I don’t have her name in my register. You must have the wrong class,” the teacher responded.
Turns out the man was not wrong. This was indeed the right classroom and he was speaking to the person entrusted with educating his daughter since January.
On returning home, the perplexed man quizzed his daughter as to why the teacher did not know her.
“Oh she has a separate register of those that pay US$1 to her,” Pupil X responded. On further investigation the man discovered that an informal levy had been set up at the school.
Fearing prosecution, the school administration has never formally communicated the US$ illegal levy and relies on pupils putting pressure on their parents and guardians to pay up. Pupils whose parents have not coughed up are simply ignored.
Yet a different parent visited another former Group A primary school on the northern side of town that same November. There, he found kids running around unsupervised. He finally found a general hand who told him that teachers were coming to school on a very ad hoc basis. And that time there was only one teacher on the premises sitting in her vehicle in the car park.
The man went to the head’s office to try and get an explanation.
“Your child’s teacher belongs to a very combative union. If I attempt to confront her, they will be all over me. They could even beat me up,” the totally dis-empowered head said.
This silent kind of industrial action is happening in many public schools across the country.
Too many teachers are paying lip service to duty. They miss lessons, sit in the classroom while ignoring the learners, find every excuse under the sun for absenteeism and generally push the envelope to find the minimum effort levels they can get away with.
The actions are subtle, but as devastating as a full blown strike. Because at the end of the day no learning is taking place. So we are set to see a whole generation pass through the school system while missing out on a whole lot of learning.
Teacher incentives: Should they return?
It is clear from the impasse between the State and health workers that there is no stash of cash just waiting to be disbursed to civil servants, no matter how urgent or just the need.
With Higher Life Foundation having had to step in to break the impasse with incentives for doctors to return to work, it looks like Government is in no position to give civil servants living wages, never mind proper remuneration for educated professionals.
It is therefore unlikely that there will be any meaningful salary adjustments for teachers or any other civil servants for that matter.
It is therefore up to parents and school authorities to come up with a plan.
We all remember that period a decade ago when the situation in the country was much worse than it currently is. The education system was saved by incentives eked out by parents and guardians to keep teachers at work.
The return of incentives for teachers is the lowest hanging fruit. Teachers stay in classrooms physically and mentally. It is an open secret that there is more liquidity on the grey and black market than in the formal sector. As a short-term solution, incentives seem like the perfect answer.
It is an open secret that there is more liquidity on the grey and black market than in the formal sector, but the question then comes up on whether all parents and guardians are able to squeeze their tight budgets to get teacher incentives.
But it is also patently obvious that there are too many people who have not found an opportunity. So learners whose parents cannot afford to pay incentives will suffer.
Also teachers in affluent communities will be better off than their counterparts in rural and farming areas. The teacher in a former Group A school will be in a much better place than the teacher in a rural school.
There is also the feeling of resentment on the part of parents. Some of them are civil servants themselves earning the same amount as the teacher that they have to incentivise. Others earn even less.
Incentives are a short-term alternative just to get the year started, but Government must urgently come up with sustainable civil service remuneration plans.
Long-term solution needed
In a previous instalment, I advocated alternate sources of funding for the education system with local authorities taking a more proactive role.
Local authorities must play their part through non-financial incentives for civil service workers. For example, local authorities could easily create affordable housing schemes for all civil servants in their areas. Other things like commuting transport and health services can also be included.
Government needs to come up with policies that are pro-civil servants to ensure that delivery of basic human rights in various forms is achieved.