Schools face closure
by Sunday News Online | Sunday, Jun 26, 2016 | 1188 views
Tinomuda Chakanyuka/Fairness Moyana, Sunday News Reporters
AT least four schools in Hwange District might be forced to close while several others in other districts in Matabeleland North are being run by skeleton staff including village heads, owing to a shortage of staff following the ban on re-engagement of temporary teachers and the shunning of the schools by qualified teachers.
In Matabeleland South, although officials said there was no school which was in danger of closing, they said 80 percent of the primary schools do not have Early Childhood Development teachers and pupils are either taught by non-ECD teachers or are not being taught at all.
Investigations have, however, revealed that in Hwange District, Kandebwe, Msuna, Nengasha and Najepwa primary schools do not have qualified teachers and in some cases parents have pooled resources and employed a temporary teacher to administer and teach all the classes.
At Kandebwe Primary School which is 80 kilometres from Hwange town, it was observed that the school has since the beginning of the term been run by a village head in the area after all qualified teachers left and the Government did not renew the contracts for temporary teachers who were at the school.
Although Matabeleland North provincial education director Mrs Boitatelo Mnguni could not be reached to give an overview of the province which also includes Binga which has many schools facing the same problem, Hwange district education officer Mr Lovemore Nyoni confirmed the situation in the district.
“Yes, we have challenges of some schools lacking qualified teachers, a situation that has been worsened by the freeze on employment of temporary teachers and has seen some schools being run by temporary teachers employed by the SDC. The location of the schools and lack of proper infrastructure are some of the factors that are affecting the district’s ability to retain qualified teachers. It is unfortunate that our district which has a high number of untrained teachers has over the years been relying on locally trained teachers which is no longer happening,” he said.
At Kandebwe, Mr Nyoni said two qualified teachers were deployed to the school which has an enrolment of 120 pupils at the start of this term, but left two days later resulting in parents employing a village head to administer the school. He said the education office asked a teacher from a neighbouring Dambumukulu Primary to assist in running the affairs of the school.
“However, because of the distance and lack of basic amenities the teacher refused citing an infringement of her right,” said Mr Nyoni.
He said although parents were keen to employ qualified temporary teachers, they could not pay them since they were also struggling to pay school fees. Mr Nyoni said this year education officials were forced to transfer the only qualified female teacher at Nengasha Primary School in Dinde, 17 kilometres from Hwange National Park after she tendered in an urgent application arguing that she was pregnant and could no longer cope with the “harsh” environment. Communities there brave wild animals with whom they compete for water at unsafe sources.
He said most of these schools were in remote areas which lack basic amenities such as water, roads, electricity while some are near the national parks where wild animals roam freely. Mr Nyoni said Msuna and Najepwa were also being run by temporary teachers employed by parents. Some parents said since the schools were being run by “volunteers” and teachers employed by parents, they could be closed if the “teachers” decide to leave also since they are not contracted to the Government which oversees education.
“If there is no single teacher employed by the Government, then this is as good as a closed school because there is no Government control. It is more like parents teaching their children and how can they expect them to pass,” said a parent with a child at Kandebwe Primary School.
In Matabeleland South, the provincial education director, Mrs Tumisang Thabela, said no school in her province was being manned by unqualified teachers although she said there was an 80 percent shortage of ECD teachers and 40 percent shortage of Mathematics and Science teachers at secondary schools.
“I don’t have the figures with me now but what I can confirm is that we have an 80 percent shortage of ECD teachers and 40 percent shortage of Science and Maths teachers. Of course the situation is affecting us a lot and we hope efforts that are underway will bring relief to the current state of affairs in the province,” she said.
Contacted for comment, Primary and Secondary Education Deputy Minister Professor Paul Mavhima acknowledged the shortage of teachers which he, however, said was not confined to the two provinces but countrywide. Prof Mavhima could not comment on the situation in Hwange saying he needed to speak to officials from his office in the area to get a clear picture.
He, however, said there was a rationalisation programme being carried by the Government in the civil service that will address the shortage of teachers in most parts of the country.
“With regards to the Matabeleland North schools that are being manned by villagers, I would have to look at the specific schools and talk to officials on the ground before I can comment authoritatively. Teacher shortages are countrywide, especially in Maths and Science subjects and ECD and efforts are being made to address the situation. We are looking at redeploying teachers from where there is overstaffing to where there are vacancies and that will address the situation.”
Added Prof Mavhima: “We have enough qualified teachers who simply need to be moved to where there is understaffing. We also have a stock of qualified teachers graduating from colleges whom we can also deploy to fill those vacant posts. We have also started mainstreaming ECD, a process that will see ECD classes being taught by qualified teachers as opposed to the previous situation where we had para-professionals. So soon we will be having enough ECD teachers,” he said.
The Government terminated employment contracts for thousands of relief teachers at the beginning of last year, hardly two weeks after hiring them following the recalling of teachers on vacation leave. However, in order to improve the capacity of teachers, the Government has started a programme where teachers are sent to universities to upgrade themselves, and also to alleviate the shortage of Maths and Science teachers.