ZIMBABWE: Only US dollars can buy education

In better days
HARARE, 27 January 2009 (IRIN) - Zimbabwean teachers ignored the start of the new school term on 27 January and remained on strike, demanding the payment of their salaries in US dollars.

The opening of schools had already been delayed by a week after teachers refused to mark the 2008 public examinations, which has affected the grading of pupils due to enter secondary school. Teachers are demanding US$2,300 a month.

Sifiso Ndlovu, chief executive officer of the Zimbabwe Teachers Association, told IRIN that the strike was basically solid. "The teachers did not report for duty throughout the country and in the poorer parts of urban areas. The school gates and classroom doors were open, but there were no teachers to teach the pupils."

He said some teachers at schools in the affluent suburbs of the capital, Harare, and Zimbabwe’s second city, Bulawayo, had reported for duty, but did not conduct lessons.

"From our inquiries, they were hoping to strike deals with parents so that they could be paid in foreign currency and receive other incentives such as groceries, but we would not want to encourage such a development as it is only [short-term]. We want to have teachers whose welfare is completely guaranteed."

An IRIN correspondent visited several schools around Harare and confirmed the no-show by educators. In Harare’s high-density suburbs, only head teachers were present, while children had either been told to go home or were playing on the school grounds.

It is up to you, as the parents, to decide what should be done to ensure that your children get an education
At David Livingstone Primary School, concerned parents huddled around a teacher who announced that she would not report for duty on 28 January as she did not have the money for bus fare.

"It is up to you, as the parents, to decide what should be done to ensure that your children get an education. If I have no money to come to school then I will just stay at home," she said.

The parents immediately convened a meeting and set up a committee that would be responsible for the teacher’s welfare.

There was a similar scene at Haig Park Primary School in the wealthy suburb of Mabelreign, where the few teachers who turned up chose to discuss ‘options’ with the parents, but there appeared to be no takers. The teachers said they would return if they received news that they would be paid in foreign currency.

Meanwhile, teachers are already in the private tuition market, providing lessons to the children of panicked parents. They are responding to an economic crisis in which hyperinflation has rendered the local currency worthless, and the economy is now almost completely dollarised.

The Zimbabwe government blames sanctions by the West for the country’s predicament. Most analysts accuse President Robert Mugabe of implementing disastrous policies that have ruined the economy and triggered a humanitarian emergency. – IRIN

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