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Coltart raises red flag over education crisis

The big interview BY BLESSED MHLANGA

FORMER Education minister David Coltart has painted a gloomy picture of the country’s education sector, saying lack of motivation among teachers will see schoolchildren paying a heavy price in future.

Coltart (DC), who was credited with turning around Zimbabwe’s education system after it took a heavy battering from the hyper-inflationary era of 2008, told our senior reporter Blessed Mhlanga (BM) in an exclusive interview that poor infrastructure had worsened the crisis.

He bemoaned the reversal of most of the policies that he introduced under former president Robert Mugabe.

Coltart, who was recently elected MDC’s treasurer-general, also spoke about the prospects of the party following its congress held last month where Nelson

Chamisa was elected to succeed founding leader Morgan Tsvangirai. Below are excerpts from the interview.

BM: As former Education minister, can you kindly tell us your view on the state of education in Zimbabwe right now?

DC: I am very distressed about the state of education. I think it’s in decline. We see the amount of anger among the teachers.

Teachers are the most important asset. If you don’t have teachers who are enthusiastic and committed, then you have serious problems in any education system.

We have a huge task to stabilise the education sector and I don’t have confidence in this government because I think they have their budgetary priorities all
wrong.

It needs a fundamental shift and change right at the core of government when it comes to the allocation of the budget.

You have to decide as a nation if education is going to be your number one priority.

It must be not just the theoretical budget, but the actual disbursement of monies.

To make that effective investment in education, you have to move resources from other areas, there is no way around it.

So I don’t see that happening with the present government.

I don’t see any change while they remain in power and for as long as that continues, I am afraid our education system is going to continue going down.

BM: What effect will this have on the nation?

DC: Well, it has a catastrophic effect because children are our future.

They are our most important resource and if you destroy the education sector or undermine it, you actually undermine an entire generation.

That means even if you get your other policies right, if you don’t have the accountants, the architects, the engineers, the doctors coming through your
system, you can have all the resources in the world, but you won’t be able to exploit them effectively.

That’s why education has to be a priority and it’s one of my anxieties.

BM: We have another four years in terms of the constitution with this government in power, what damage is being done to our education sector if there isn’t a
change? There are policies that you put in place as minister and some have been reversed. What are your thoughts on that?

DC: Well, its ultimately distressing. I am a grandfather now. So my own children have been educated, so it’s not only a personal concern to me or to my family,
but it’s a deep-rooted concern about the future of our nation and other people’s children at this juncture because I see unmotivated teachers.

I see the teaching materials are declining, you know they have introduced a new curriculum and they haven’t introduced text-books for that and that means this present generation of children being educated are getting a deficient education, so it needs urgent attention.

BM: Teachers have been calling for salary increments. Will this be a solution in this environment of high inflation?

DC: The problem about salary hikes is that in a hyperinflation environment you can put up a salary, but in real terms it makes no difference.

In fact, in real terms it’s a decline in teachers’ spending power.

There are core issues that go way beyond the education sector, which need to be addressed.

They deal with business confidence, they deal with, like I said just now, budgetary allocations and to get the right budgetary allocations, you have to take
pretty drastic actions like cutting the size of Cabinet.

You have to cut down on Cabinet perks.

You have to look at the amount of money that we spend in the security sector — the vast amount of money that we spend in the military and foreign trips and hiring planes and all these things — only by cutting those do you have resources necessary that you need to put into education.

Once you get those resources in there, then you can start working. But, and it’s a huge but, you have to get the whole economy functioning.

BM: Let’s look at the infrastructure in schools, we have seen children being forced to learn under trees, walk long distances to school. Is there a solution to this?

DC: I set in process a lot of plans that were not taken over by my successor; that is to establish the education transition fund, and the schools development fund, which if it had been kept going would have pretty much solved this.

I had an entire programme of academies that had only just started when I lost office and they haven’t been continued.

Unfortunately, a lot of our plans that we made in 2011, 2012 and 2013 have not been carried through and that is frustrating.

BM: Does this lack of infrastructure reflect in poor results, mostly in rural schools?

DC: We have an educational crisis right across. It’s not just rural schools. Obviously rural schools are more affected by the collapse, but we must not underestimate the national nature of this crisis.

BM: You are the MDC treasurer-general and if your party comes into government, what is your prescription to these problems.

DC: First of all, we have to deal with the macro problems of the economy, and our monetary and fiscal policy.

On the monetary policy, we have to abandon the bond note. We have to abandon the ability of the governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe to fuel inflation by issuing treasury bills and getting loans that are unsecured and mortgaging our children’s future by taking mines for current loans.

That has to change on your monetary policy.

We have to embrace either the rand or the US$ again, but it’s premature to think we can have a local currency, all that it’s going to do is fuel inflation.

We look at the fiscal policy — if you look at what Tendai Biti did as Finance minister, what he did is he said we eat what we kill and he instilled confidence in the banking sector and that in turn instilled confidence in foreign investment and domestic investment.

These are the macro issues you have to tackle. There are things I call philosophical issues.

We have to change our attitude, we cannot continue to arrest, harass our teachers and think that we are going to have a motivated teacher in the classroom.

We have to have a mature dialogue with the teaching profession. We did this in 2009, you know, when Biti and I sat down as ministers of finance and education.

We called in all the leaders of teacher trade unions and we showed them government books.

We said look we have no money to pay you, can we get you back into the classroom for US$100 per month and they came back because we had had that mature
discussion.

We didn’t try to dictate to them, we brought them in. None of us has a monopoly of intelligence in this county.

If we are to resolve our problems in this nation, we have to draw alongside professionals like teachers and say we have a collective problem here, how are we
going to resolve it and I don’t see that from this government.

This government sits from an ivory tower, issues directives and they tell people what to do and that’s not the way any efficient organisation works, never mind
the country.

BM: As the new treasurer-general of the MDC, what would you say is the future of the party?

DC: There are two things about the MDC and I have said this at all our party caucuses.

We have let down our membership in two fundamental ways in the past 20 years. Firstly, we allowed ourselves to be divided. I mean it’s ridiculous that someone
like Nelson Chamisa and I ended up in two separate entities because we have worked together for 20 years. We think the same way, the same with many of my other
colleagues in the MDC.

But the leadership was divided and that was a failure to our supporters and to the nation. It was a gift to Zanu PF.

Secondly, we have not run this party as efficiently as it should be run and I have said this time and again, we can’t say to the electorate we can run
Zimbabwe well if we can’t run our own party well.

These are the challenges and for all that Zanu PF has thrown at us, we can only blame ourselves for those two things — being divided and not running ourselves efficiently.

I think what you saw was the reestablishment of the party of the 11th of September 1999.

Those of us who were at Rufaro — and I was at Rufaro — I am now back with my colleagues and we are seeing the re-emergence of the founding principles of that
party.

We are dealing with the division issue and I hope we got a new leadership which is committed to run this party efficiently and then we take this party forward, united and efficiently.

BM: What entails efficiency in you view?

DC: Well, I mean fundamentally efficient. It’s like asking a businessman what constitutes efficiency. It actually starts in your home.

If the lawyers in my law practice don’t run their homes well, I am not convinced they can run the legal practice well.

So we have to start with our home and our home is the party. If our headquarters building is in shambles, if our party offices are derelict, if our staff members are not being paid, then we are not running our home correctly.

We have got to start there. So we have to start with the nuts and bolts of running the party, that’s the first step.

We have got to get our family in order. Once we have done that then we gradually expand and we go to the core, to our membership and ultimately we go to the
nation.

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