FINANCE minister Patrick Chinamasa’s announcement that the government will stop paying salaries of teachers taking early childhood development (ECD) classes has caused panic in the education sector.
By Xolisani Ncube
The Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) described as nauseating Primary and Secondary Education minister Paul Mavima’s statements that parents “have to either send their children to private schools or pay for teachers’ salaries.”
PTUZ said the move was against recommendations by the Nziramasanga Commission for primary education to be nine years. The union urged the minister to reverse the decision, saying it had serious implications for both teachers and learners.
However, Mavima (PM) insisted in an exclusive interview with our senior reporter Xolisani Ncube (XN) that the government had no money to recruit new ECD teachers.
He also spoke about his ministry’s 100 day targets, which include construction of new schools and provision of learning materials, among other issues. Below is the full interview.
XN: May you please clarify the government’s policy on the payment of ECD teachers’ salaries as Chinamasa’s announcement in the 2018 budget has caused some confusion.
PM: As government, we are saying because of fiscal challenges we are going through, we are unable to recruit new ECD teachers at the moment.
This, however, does not affect those already on the job. Those ones will continue. We are saying, let parents come in and help by paying the remainder and this we will do in a systematic manner.
I am preparing a concept paper, which I will table in Cabinet soon to guide us on the proposal. Basically we are saying schools in urban areas, those that can afford to pay ECD teachers can pay while government will deploy its resources to areas that cannot. I am talking about rural areas.
What we intend to do, we have schools that can afford to pay these ECD teachers in urban areas from their levies and government will then take care of those in rural areas.
Let us take an example of a school in Harare like Alex Park Primary School, it might need four ECD teachers and is charging $200 per term.
We are saying from that levy, let them recruit the ECD teachers and pay them so that government can then deploy those on its payroll to rural areas where people are unable to afford.
XN: What are you going to do to ensure that teachers are treated equally both in rural and urban areas since there would be different employers?
PM: As I have said, we are working on a concept paper which, if approved, we shall give to schools and we are going to map these schools looking at the ability to pay.
The mapping will help us as well in establishing the number of ECD teachers each school needs basing on its revenue and population. So no one will be disadvantaged in the process.
XN: Are we not likely to see an increase in school fees as schools try to raise money to pay the ECD teachers?
PM: No one will be disadvantaged as I said earlier on; the levies I am talking about already exist and are being paid by parents but not doing anything productive.
I am talking of money that is there but not being channelled to correct things. Schools have been charging levies like $200 per term and so on and so forth but in most cases, these monies end up being used to buy unwanted furniture or some non-productive projects. We are saying let that money, part of it, be channelled towards the ECD programme.
We have schools that have been buying furniture every two or three years and keep the old one in the store room even if the chairs are not wanted or worn out. This is the money we are saying must be channelled towards that.
No school will be allowed to increase school fees, let the existing fee structure remain but school authorities will need to re-configure their priorities.
XN: Is the government not abrogating its responsibilities by transferring the hiring of teachers to parents?
PM: This is not a permanent thing but we are trying to help our treasury. I have a letter from the ministry of Finance suggesting that there is no money and we can’t then abandon the project.
But we must look for means to carry it forward and the state will take back the responsibility once things normalise.
More so, the money we are talking about is the same money that SDCs [school development committees] once proposed to use to pay teachers as incentives. So we are now just saying let us direct it towards ECD for now.
XN: First lady Auxillia Mnangagwa was quoted recently saying ‘we don’t want ECD’. Is that a position taken by the new administration?
PM: Please, don’t ask me things I am not privy to or that I cannot comment on. I am telling you a government position.
For your information, ECD was started in 2003 way before the things you are talking about. We used to have grade zero, which we now call ECD A and B.
XN: Some unions have criticised the decision to stop paying ECD teachers saying it goes against recommendations of the Nziramasanga Commission, which say primary school must be nine years.
PM: We will not put away the ECD programme just because of these challenges.
We are implementing the Nziramasanga Commission report and we will continue to do so.
If you look at the way we have structured our education, we have the infant stage, which is your ECD A, B, Grade 1 and 2, we then have junior school, which is Grade 3 to 7 and then the secondary school from Form 1 to 6. The primary education part is nine years.
XN: What’s the new administration’s position on the national pledge?
PM: The national pledge will remain in schools. In fact, let me say this clearly, we don’t have a national pledge. We have a schools’ pledge, which is applicable only to pupils in schools.
If you go to other states such as Russia and the like, you will find the national pledge for everyone. From the president to the smallest person in that country.
People pledge their allegiance to the national pledge every day before they do anything. I strongly believe we need that kind of a pledge.
It is a misnomer that it is only pupils who pledge their loyalty and patriotism to Zimbabwe and not everyone. This is the kind of debate I believe we should be engaged in.
I will raise the matter in Cabinet and move that we get the national pledge whose wording applies to everyone from the top to the lowest or smallest person.
At the moment, we have a school pledge and it will continue to be there.
XN: You have been quoted recently saying the government will not abandon the new education curriculum introduced by your predecessor. Will you consider reviewing some of the issues that were contested by teachers and parents?
PM: We are engaging all stakeholders on that and we know that we shall find each other and solve all challenges.
XN: Can you briefly tell us the major highlights of your ministry’s 100 day plan?
PM: In our 100 day plan we have listed a number of things to do and we are starting in January with the construction of 17 state-of-the-art schools.
We want schools that provide a competitive learning environment. These schools will be built across the country and that is to ease the infrastructure burden.
We have the money. All that’s left for me is to look at the tender documents and then sign so that those who were awarded the contracts could start work.
We are interested in ensuring that the process is done fairly and above board.
We are also looking at building 166 schools starting June under the joint venture programme and this again, we are looking at a complete school that has teacher accommodation, water, sanitation and other facilities that are needed for a modern school.
We are also looking at distributing learning materials worth $9 million to schools starting January. We also have a project on capacity building for teachers starting March.
We have other plans to ensure that all satellite schools are upgraded and this will start in March but run for five years.
I am talking about ensuring that we have suitable, modern learning infrastructure as well as the accommodation of our staff is also taken care of.
These are just highlights of what we intend to do. It does not mean we have exhausted everything but just highlights.