Schools are reopening tomorrow after a long break due to Covid-19, but there is uncertainty on whether teachers will return to work because of a dispute with the government over salaries.
Teachers from public schools say they can’t afford to return to class because their salaries have been eroded by inflation.
The Zimbabwe Teachers Association (Zimta), the largest union representing educators, declared a “state of incapacitation”.
Teachers say without any meaningful salary increase, teachers would not afford costs of transport and pay school fees for their children.
They have been demanding United States dollar dominated salaries for some time citing the volatility of the Zimbabwe dollar.
Zimta has a membership of 43 000 and whenever it leads a strike by teachers, Zimbabwe’s education system becomes completely paralysed.
The government has not given a clear response to the demands by civil servants, including teachers, to be paid in foreign currency.
It is this year’s inertia that is putting the future of millions of children in jeopardy as a strike by teachers would mean that pupils might find it difficult to catch up on their syllabi before their final examinations.
Children have already lost a lot of time in the nearly two years of lockdowns to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
On Friday, the Zimbabwe Schools Examination Council (Zimsec) said the number of Grade 7 examination candidates fell by 0.6% from 327 559 in 2020 to 325 573 last year.
Zimsec noted that there was a high number of dropouts and that is another symptom of an education system that is plunging into a crisis.
The government should not be waiting for the education system to collapse before taking action and this must start with addressing the teachers’ perennial grievances.
Children returning to school tomorrow cannot afford to lose any learning time because of labour issues that the government should have addressed a long time ago.
There is no denying the fact that teachers’ grievances are genuine.
The cost of living has been rising steadily and incomes are being eroded by inflation.
It is imperative for the government to set it’s prioritise right and ensure that its workers are given a living wage.