THE year 2019 begins with a plethora of challenges that need intelligent and meticulous attention. All of them are different in nature but genuinely tied to a tough and unforgiving economic environment.
All schools have hiked school fees, some ridiculously, others reasonably… but all of them responding to an economic reality impossible to cheat or avoid. Blaming schools for this obvious response and reaction is to refuse to be realistic and pragmatic. All the essential accessories and items used to make a normal school function have gone up three or four fold in Zimbabwe and it only makes sense for schools to hike fees accordingly if they want to function properly. That is common sense.
Yet the above scenario has opened up a scapegoat for some school heads and their School Development Committees (SDC) to become unfeeling, injudicious, unthinking, insensitive, and in some cases literally mischievous.
While those who are charging fees in US dollars cannot be labelled insane, they can be described as mischievous, overzealous… naughty, to say the least. They must also be reminded that charging fees in US dollars is illegal and the consequences of such spitefulness are obvious.
However, Government has made the issue of school fees clear. It has not refused and stopped schools to hike fees. But there are procedures to follow when a school wants to raise school fees. These are clear and schools know them. In doing so the Government has not permitted schools to become fundraising projects or business centres.
As if the school fees issue is not enough a problem, a lot of parents were dismayed by the behaviour of some school heads who seemed to be more insensitive than the economy. Many of them are demanding reams of bond paper from learners. Several school heads and teachers confirmed this illegal practice.
Manicaland Provincial education director Edward Shumba lambasted school heads that were insensitive to the parent’s plight by making illegal demands like student groceries, floor polish, reams of bond paper and even private sales of school uniforms at schools.
“Students are free to buy school requirements like uniforms wherever they want so long as they are uniforms of the quality and standard required by the school. Teachers or ancillary staff that buy and force students to buy their uniforms at exorbitant prices must be warned. This is not allowed… and please, you stop it before we catch up with you,” he said.
As if all already said and done above is not enough, there is a looming industrial action in the air. Though many districts in the provinces countrywide reported normal back-to-school, it is an open secret that some teachers’ unions are inciting teachers to down tools claiming a plethora of anomalies among them the demand to be paid in US dollars.
Government through relevant arms and offices has admitted that teachers’ salaries, indeed like those of other civil servants, have been eroded by unjustified price hikes of basic commodities and services. The acting Public Service Labour and Social Welfare Minister Cde July Moyo is on record saying civil servants would go into negotiations where Government is ready to make an offer in terms of ameliorating the plight of its workers.
It is this promise to sit down and talk, negotiate and agree that we wish could be carefully done and approached in a manner that satisfies all parties involved.
The injuries education suffers owing to teachers’ resorting to industrial action are far reaching. As teachers push on what are obviously their legitimate grievances and demands, need we remind them of a need to resort to a prudent, professional and wise approach of getting to a yes without giving-in. Easier said than done we know, but it is doable. Principled negotiators must be level-headed, realistic and ought to be experts in the principle of concessions. You cannot have it all for yourself in any process of negotiating and bargaining for rights, privilege or space. Digging in selfishly and not listening to the other is bad negotiating.
Zimbabwe cannot afford another repeat of the previous impasse between teachers and the establishment nearly two decades ago. That unforgettable gridlock, call it a stalemate or standoff, resulted in the academic death of a whole generation of young Zimbabweans. Lest we forget! The generation of students who did not attend school for years was completely lost in both the literal and metaphorical sense. We cannot have that again. We all hope and trust that everyone involved in the negotiations will not make an already terribly begun school year worse.
Another stalemate would be regrettable and unfortunate for Education in Zimbabwe.