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TEACHER unions have reacted with anger to a directive by the Ministry of Education that teachers should not engage in school holiday lessons. The ministry argues that the 13 weeks allocated for the school term are enough for pupils to adequately cover the syllabus.

The ministry, however, points out that it will allow for holiday and extra lessons only in exceptional cases where it can be proved that there was a major interruption in the school calendar. Fair enough.

For their part, the unions have said they will defy the directive because they need to supplement their low salaries. Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe secretary-general Raymond Majongwe insisted that they would defy the directive until Government met its pledge to pay teachers salaries equivalent to the poverty datum line.

Zimbabwe Teachers’ Association president Richard Gundane said teachers were offering a service and deserved to be paid.

We believe this is a very emotive issue which should be handled with sensitivity rather than threats and sabre-rattling.

This despite the obvious fact that, in our view, teachers have a weak case.

They have not demonstrated in their arguments that the 13 weeks per term is too short.

Instead, their point is simply that they want to make more money from holiday and extra lessons. And we don’t believe that because they were promised a salary adjustment last year they must therefore try to extort from parents, most of whom are also struggling.

We have also noted with worry attempts to arm-twist and blackmail parents to get into debt in order to pay for the extra holiday lessons. Many a time they are told their children will miss out if they don’t attend holiday lessons. In fact, it turns out that teachers exert themselves more during extra lessons just to prove a point that students who attend these have a better chance in the end of year examinations.

There is, however, a sinister subtext to this dispute, which is that most teachers now spend formal school hours doing personal deals instead of proper planning and teaching.

The result is that they don’t in fact go through the syllabus, hence the need for extra lessons.

Beside the immorality of this practice, if it is true, we are left wondering what has happened to these members of the noble profession who used to pride themselves on their reputations earned from high pass rates without the need for holiday or extra teaching lessons.

What has become of the headmaster and head of department who used to conduct spot checks to see if teachers were doing their work and check their schemes and plan books for each day and week?

Are the hard economic times spelling an end for the professional teacher?

On the other hand, while we appreciate that Government has next to no room to manoeuvre financially, we believe there should be respectful engagement between the parties.

The demands the teachers are making on the Government are not out of this world given the high cost of living. They deserve better if they are to apply themselves fully to the task of teaching.

It is important to explain efforts being made to grow the economy so that we all share a bigger cake in the future and the current fight against corruption is meant to help achieve.

The last thing we would want is have our children’s education and therefore their future, compromised through industrial action — declared or through class boycotts or sit-ins.

Source : The Herald