Today the 5th of February 2019 marks the beginning of the teachers’ collective job action (strike). As if to send a message to the striking teachers, the Public Service Commission (PSC) released a press statement announcing the recruitment of more teachers. It looks like the PSC wants to have enough teachers to replace those who are not going to report for duty. Or, maybe they are just doing it in the best interest of our strained education system.
3 000 additional teachers
According to the PSC, 8 509 teaching posts remain unfilled around the country due to funding constraints. In a press statement, PSC Chairman Dr Vincent Hungwe says, “The Commission therefore welcomes the recent decision by Government to provide funds to facilitate the recruitment of 3 000 additional teachers in primary and secondary schools as an interim measure while the request for additional resources to engage more teachers is awaited…So far, 1 500 names have been submitted to the Public Service Commission for consideration and confirmation.” Although the issue of vacant teaching posts has been discussed for a long time now, the timing seems to be convenient now more than ever. The recruitment could have been done before the school term commenced but that did not happen. Now that the teachers are going on strike, the sincerity of such a move is questionable.
We need to bear in mind that Zimbabwe has a high unemployment rate. Many qualified professionals end up opting to work in the informal sector because formal employment is scarce. This is the same for qualified teachers whom the system has failed to absorb. The PSC estimates that 19 993 teachers, some of whom qualified back in 2012, are unemployed. Now, if government can only afford to absorb 3 000 of these for now, what will happen to the rest? “Government and the Commission are also exploring opportunities to place the teachers in SADC member states and other regions through bilateral and multilateral agreements.” We have already heard that South Sudan is one such destination. However, the move is taking long to implement. Secondly, it is a fact that many other countries are also struggling with unemployment rates. As a result, only a handful of our teachers may ever benefit from such arrangements. Those who teach maths and science subjects are preferred in countries like South Africa and Botswana. This is a very small number. The problem is far from over.
While all this is happening, the Zimbabwe Teachers Association (ZIMTA) is adamant their strike is going ahead despite state media claims that the strike had been called off. Zimta has been giving regular updates to its members on how to report victimisation and how to stay safe during the strike. They have also assured their members that their legal team will be on standby to defend them if anyone takes them to court. For government to want to employ more teachers when they are struggling to cater for those at work is baffling. Maybe it is another case of firefighting on the part of government. It would have been prudent for government to deal with the current unrest first before increasing the number of soon to be disgruntled teachers.
It may be coincidental that government wants to employ more teachers during the same time that those who are employed are unhappy. However, that teachers’ challenges should be looked into is not in doubt. Salaries have been eroded by runaway inflation. A lasting solution is needed soon, otherwise the students will continue to bear the brunt.