Primary and Secondary Education minister Lazarus Dokora has been in the hot seat for less than five years but he can easily win the most unpopular minister of all time contest.
news in depth BY EVERSON MUSHAVA
Dokora, appointed by President Robert Mugabe in 2013 to succeed David Coltart, has been on a crusade to change the education system, but is creating more enemies than friends because of the abrupt nature of the reforms.
The introduction of a new curriculum at the beginning of the current school term has brought to the fore problems caused by Dokora’s unexpected reforms.
Takavafira Zhou, the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) president, sounded the alarm bells on January 10 when schools opened for the first term.
“Confusion, uncertainty punctuated the opening of Zimbabwean schools,” he wrote then in a prediction that has come to pass.
“Fundamentally, teachers had expected a gradual implementation of the new curriculum, punctuated by widespread engagement and consultation.
“Many schools remain understaffed as teachers have not been recruited, let alone deployed to numerous understaffed schools.
“Several students were seeking Form 1 places after a new electronic application system introduced at the behest of the Ministry of Education created more problems than it intended to resolve, more so, given the technological challenges faced by parents.”
Zhou added: “The rushed implementation of [the] new curriculum with immediate effect has left teachers wondering where to start as the syllabi and teaching resources are not yet in schools.
“The heads of schools were as shocked as the teachers, and are waiting for further information from the line ministry which may take days to filter down to schools. And even when it does, it will not provide a panacea to the challenges faced in schools.”
A teacher from Masvingo who spoke on condition of anonymity said besides the lack of material resources to implement the new curriculum, most teachers were badly equipped to teach the new subjects.
“Even scheming is difficult without resource books. We don’t even know some of the things that we are now supposed to teach,” she said.
“This is the worst curriculum I have ever seen. Grade 1 pupils will now learn figures in their final term. The figures will be beyond them, like, how can a Grade 1 pupil calculate 48-5? It boggles the mind how such decisions are made.”
Another teacher from Midlands Province said the radical changes would erode progress made in transforming Zimbabwe’s education sector.
“Religion is now introduced in Grade 4,” she said. “We have been teaching pupils the morals of obedience using examples in the Bible and now, how are we going to instil a sense of discipline in pupils?
“Even the English syllabus [will be difficult], how can you ask a Grade 1 pupil to use such words like smack, scab in a sentence?
“ICT [Information Communication Technology] is now compulsory and Grade 1 pupils will be required to write letters on computers when some teachers in rural areas cannot operate a computer.”
Another teacher from Manicaland said they were now forced to dig deeper into their pockets to ensure that their students did not lose out in the absence of textbooks to support the new curriculum.
“Imagine Grade 3 pupils being taught how to maintain pubic hair in their Environmental Science lessons,” the teacher said.
“Grade 3s are supposed to be taught in vernacular languages; what will the teacher say to those pupils?
“It is just unheard of. I doubt if consultations were made when the curriculum was crafted.”
Dokora says the new curriculum with far-reaching changes was crafted to revolutionise the “colonial” education system the country had been using since independence.
However, the new curriculum has not been supported by per capita grants to schools for textbooks and materials.
Some of the subjects Dokora introduced included mass displays, visual and performing arts, physical education, mathematics and science and social studies (family and heritage studies) that are now taught from infant level.
Indigenous languages will now be the medium of instruction at primary schools.
The government also introduced Islamic studies, a move that has courted wide condemnation from parents.
At O’level, Agriculture, Physical Education, Sport and Mass Displays, General Science, Mathematics, indigenous languages, English language and Heritage Studies will now be compulsory, while a maximum of five elective subjects can be selected from a list that includes Geography, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, History, Economic History, Business and Enterprise Skills, Commerce, Economics and Principles of Accounts, among others.
Zhou said apart from the controversial curriculum, Dokora was also trudging towards introducing a new dress code for teachers that, according to some headmasters, would include banning of flat shoes and red ties for male teachers.
“In workshops conducted by school heads, they have made the claims of a new dress code,” Zhou said.
“The headmasters claim they had been sent by district and provincial educational officers [to enforce the changes].
“At some schools, they have actually demanded that teachers remove PTUZ logos from their shirts.
“The new curriculum has been made to inculcate blind obedience.
“Physical education, mass displays and heritage studies are now compulsory subjects. Mass displays, like those in ancient China, what value do they have on our education?” Zhou queried.
He said the new curriculum meant a lot of work for Grade 1 pupils whose minds still needed to be developed to cope with pressure as they now dismiss at 3:30pm as opposed to 12 midday in previous years.
Zhou said teachers were now living in fear as they were continuously threatened by inspectors from the Public Service Commission who do not know anything about education.
“Why only on teachers? why not on soldiers and the police, but all this under Dokora who seems to have supported it by renaming education officers as inspectors so that there is no differentiation with those Public Service inspectors,” he said.
“The inspectorate system is a colonial legacy. It does not improve pass rates, neither can they resource the teachers.”
Zhou expressed concern at the influx of unwritten orders sent through headmasters at workshops by the overzealous inspectors.
He said the orders were not even supported by circulars from the ministry and that was causing confusion in the education sector.
“For example, the banning of compassionate leave to some close relatives, it is being done without repealing Statutory Instrument 1 of 2000 and its amendment in 2001 which made it very clear that the leave should be compassionate to the person taking the leave,” he said.
“As a headmaster, you cannot determine who is compassionate to the teacher.”
He also said a lot of injustices were being done against teachers, with some even forced to meet the cost of their forced transfers, contrary to the provisions of the law.
Rural Teachers Association of Zimbabwe secretary general, Robson Chere said part of the new curriculum was not necessary at the moment considering the lack of supporting infrastructure in most rural schools.
“Government has not invested money towards the new curriculum,” he said.
“There are no textbooks, no internet and electricity in most rural schools and the teachers have not been trained for the new curriculum.
“There was no need to hurry to introduce it without supporting infrastructure.
“There are new subjects like Heritage Studies, there are no textbooks and teachers will end up teaching children how to brew African traditional beer thinking that it will be part of heritage studies.”
He said the education system was on the verge of collapse due to Dokora’s tendency of introducing new things without consulting major stakeholders.
But Zimbabwe Teachers Association chief executive officer Sifiso Ndlovu had a different view, putting his weight behind Dokora’s reforms that he claimed would ‘transform generations to come.”
“This is the way to go. The only challenges are on implementation due to lack of funds and skilled manpower,” Ndlovu said.
“There needs to be an increase in the number of teachers to correspond with the new demands.
“Those new skills require teachers to be retrained and increased, but money is a challenge. This is education beyond tomorrow.
“The only challenge is lack of staffing and understanding of the philosophy behind the change. We should sit down and mitigate the challenges rather than throw away the whole plan.”
He added: “Minister Dokora is brave. Remember he is an educationist. He knows what he is doing and the country will benefit in the long run.”
Ndlovu said those who thought the new subjects were too tough for children in early grades wanted to continuously limit the scope of their children.
He said what mattered the most was not how difficult the subjects were, but the strategy to teach the children to understand the concepts.
Dokora yesterday said if the teachers had concerns about the new curriculum and other changes in the education system, they should engage him.
“I don’t operate like that. If the teachers have concerns, they will come to me. I don’t negotiate in the media,” he said.
Since his appointment to head one of the most critical ministries, Dokora has never been far from controversy, lurching from one man-made crisis to another.
Dokora’s era has witnessed the death of morale for the educators, with the once revered profession becoming a butt of jokes in Zimbabwe.