Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe, ARTUZ notes the strides made by government in modernizing our education system through the education act amendment bill of 2018. We note the thrust of improving accessibility of education through the emphasis of state funded basic education. We however noted gaps in addressing areas of safety in schools, Teacher welfare, and decentralization of educational planning and funding and holistic mechanisms of enhancing equality in education sector.
ARTUZ is guided by its vision of realizing labour justice and quality education in rural schools. In our view the bill should engender a framework of marching towards the realization of this noble vision.
Equality in education sector
Section 56 (3) of the Zimbabwean Constitution outlaws discrimination of persons on the basis of place of birth among other premises. Learners in rural outposts are being discriminated when it comes to accessing education. The schools are either in bad shape or completely not available. The accessibility, acceptability, adaptability and quality, (AAAQ) of rural education is always found wanting.
Section 75 of the same constitution guarantees the right to basic education. Introducing state funded basic education alone is not enough to deal with the challenges of the AAAQs. The State should further set up a model of constructing modern infrastructure in rural schools and retaining and attracting competent teachers in the same areas.
The Education Act should clearly spell out norms and standards of what an ideal school should be like. The South African Education Act of 1996 for example exhaustively outlined norms and standards expected in a school as a way of enhancing quality education.
5A. Norms and standards for basic infrastructure and capacity in public schools.— (1) The Minister may, after consultation with the Minister of Finance and the Council of Education Ministers, by regulation prescribe minimum uniform norms and standards for—
(a) school infrastructure;
(b) capacity of a school in respect of the number of learners a school can admit; and
(c) the provision of learning and teaching support material. [Sub-s. (1) amended by s. 5 of Act No. 15 of 2011.] Wording of Sections
(2) The norms and standards contemplated in subsection (1) must provide for, but not be limited to, the following:
(a) In respect of school infrastructure, the availability of—
(v) a library;
(vi) laboratories for science, technology, mathematics and life sciences;
(vii) sport and recreational facilities;
(viii) electronic connectivity at a school; and
(ix) perimeter security;
(b) in respect of the capacity of a school—
(i) the number of teachers and the class size;
(ii) quality of performance of a school;
(iii) curriculum and extra-curricular choices;
(iv) classroom size; and
(v) utilisation of available classrooms of a school;
(c) in respect of provision of learning and teaching support material, the availability of—
(i) stationery and supplies;
(ii) learning material;
(iii) teaching material and equipment;
(iv) science, technology, mathematics and life sciences apparatus;
(v) electronic equipment; and
(vi) school furniture and other school equipment.
We can come up with our own norms and standards and incorporate them in the bill. Schools which are deemed to be falling short of the set norms and standards should be classified as sub-standard schools. The Act should further provide for setting up an education equalization fund. Such a fund should be used to upgrade the facilities in the substandard schools.
ARTUZ posits that the bill should comprehensively outline how we can guarantee the safety of our schools. The bill can alternatively give a provision for the Secretary to consult and produce safe schools regulations.
Our schools are prone to a lot of hazards. The recent cyclone IDAI is a clear example. The scourge of Climate change is likely going to cause more natural disasters and our disaster mitigation strategies should be captured in safe schools regulations.
Political parties have also consistently upset the school ecosystem by imposing their toxic intentions in our schools. The ZANU PF party for example stands accused of frog marching learners to rallies, forcing teachers to fund its political processes and abusing school property in pursuit of private political interests.
The South African Education Act of 1996 lays a clear framework of tackling the issue of political parties encroaching the school environment. Section 33(a) tackles the issue of prohibition of political activities during school time and it reads as follows;
(1) No party-political activities may be conducted at a school during school time determined by the governing body of the school in terms of section 20 (1) (f).
(2) The party-political activities contemplated in subsection (1) include, but are not limited to—
(b) the conducting of rallies;
(c) the distribution of pamphlets and fliers; and
(d) the hanging or putting up of posters and banners.
(3) A member of a political party may not, for the purposes of conducting party-political activities, encroach on the school time.
(4) A school may not allow the display of material of a party-political nature on its premises unless such party-political material is related to the curriculum at the school
Zimbabwe can borrow much from these provisions and prevent the recurrence of politically motivated gross human rights violations we have witnessed in our schools.
We applaud the quest to enhance learner safety through outlawing corporal punishment but we still demand a holistic package of engendering safety in schools.
Teacher Welfare and Continuous development.
Both the existing education act and the 2018 bill are silent on teacher welfare. Rural teachers are living in disused tobacco barns, drinking water from rivers, walk for up to 30 km to workstation and are vulnerable to political victimization. These teachers also don’t have access to continuous learning. It will be unjust to ignore these challenges as we seek to modernize education. The Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education is mandated to cater for teacher welfare beyond the salaries paid by the Public Service and Finance Ministry.
Modern education is hinged on proficiency, motivation and independence of teachers. Proficiency comes from continuous learning, motivation is realized when welfare is taken care for and independence from limited supervision.
The Finland Education model which is the best in the world promotes those three pillar. A teacher in Finland is guaranteed of paid 2hours per week for Continuous Development. In Zimbabwe, teachers who choose to study have their salaries slashed and have to fund themselves for their studies.
The bill should define how the Ministry is expected to improve teacher welfare, promote continuous learning and guarantee academic freedom.
Decentralizing Education planning and funding.
The devolution dialogue should be embraced in the education sector. The current education laws restrict planning of education the Minister and the permanent secretary. Funding is also done at national level without input of the regions.
Our country is heterogeneous and different regions have different educational needs. Provincial Councils should be trusted with part of the education planning including coming up with some components of the curriculum.
Section 264(2)(b) of the Zimbabwean constitution cites one objective of devolution which is to recognize the right of communities to manage their own affairs and to further their development. Education planning is linked to development and if we are sincere with the devolution agenda then our Education act should address the issue of devolving education planning.
When planning is devolved it is easier to attract funding from local business as they are connected to the educational goals.
The law should set the benchmarks which should be put in place as we seek to enhance access to quality services such as education. The proposed bill falls short of the expected interventions in our pursuit of Sustainable Development Goal number 4 on inclusive access to quality education. Policy makers should consider our input and refine the bill.