Part 2 of Question Time with David Coltart

In Part 2 of Question Time, Education Minister Senator David Coltart speaks to SW Radio Africa journalist Lance Guma and tackles a variety of issues, including why he is moving teachers who are being targeted by war vets, the controversial system of teachers incentives and the long awaited civil service audit. Can his ministry also do anything about under-age girls being denied an education and married off to old men in apostolic sects in the country?

David Coltart
David Coltart

Interview broadcast 01 June 2011

Lance Guma: Hallo Zimbabwe and thank you for joining us on part two of the Question Time interview with Education Minister, Senator David Coltart who joins us on the programme to answer questions sent in by listeners using FaceBook, Twitter, Skype, email and text messages. Senator Coltart, as ever, thank you for joining us once again.

David Coltart: Thanks Lance. Good evening and once again, good being with you.

Guma: Now last week we have some follow-up questions from some of the responses you gave in the interview, particularly what your ministry was doing about teachers and headmasters who are being harassed by war veterans and in your answer you pointed to the fact that you’ve moved some of these teachers and headmasters who are being victimised. A few of our listeners would like to know whether you’re not caving in and actually making the war veterans and ZANU PF youth militia win by moving some of these people?

Coltart: Well I suppose one can make that argument but I’ve got to deal with a practical reality. I don’t control the police, I don’t control the wider political processes and I have to act within my own power range. I’ve got to look after these teachers and the only way that I can guarantee their safety is to move them out.

That’s not the only thing I’m doing; as I mentioned last week, I have raised this issue in cabinet and I’ve raised it in parliament; I’ve spoken direct to ZANU PF cabinet ministers and ZANU PF parliamentarians telling them very clearly that that ultimately it’s their own children who suffer from this abuse.

But ultimately the only way that we can protect teachers and ensure the integrity of the entire education system is to get to the root of violence and that means an overhaul of the whole system and getting the police to enforce the law and the attorney general to enforce the law.

Guma: Georgina Munyongani says and I quote – I am really worried about children who cannot afford to pay for extra lessons because it seems as if no teaching is taking place during school hours. I feel for the teachers because they are trying to make ends meet. It is so unfair to those children who cannot afford extra lessons because they will be left behind. Minister, can you try and provide better education for the poor as well? That’s Georgina Munyongani there.

Coltart: Well this goes to the root of a financing of education. I’m very concerned about lawlessness that has crept in to the system and the provision of extra lessons is often just a means of extracting further money from parents. Obviously where extra lessons are genuinely needed and genuinely provided by teachers on top of efficient teaching during normal school hours, that is fine but sadly this is sometimes a scam employed by some unscrupulous teachers to extract more money.

But to get to the heart of the question – yes our primary focus has to be on the poorest children, to provide a basic quality education for all children but we can only do that once the education sector becomes an absolute priority of government and when the education sector is adequately funded. We need to be paying teachers a viable wage; they’re not paid a viable wage at present and unfortunately until they are paid a viable wage they will employ some of these tactics to extract money to enable themselves to live and at the end of the day, it’s children who suffer.

Guma: Now still on this subject, a guy who calls himself Vadzvanyiriri on FaceBook says how far true is this talk doing the rounds that teachers are teaching material that comes on exams only during extra lesson times so that those who don’t attend these lessons fail and are thus indirectly forced to pay and attend for these extra lessons?

Coltart: I don’t know how true that is. Let me make this point Lance – that the vast majority of our teachers are professional people who are committed to children and to their calling, so I don’t think that we can say that this involves the vast majority of teachers.

Clearly there are some teachers who are involved in these unscrupulous activities and it may well be the case that they’re not teaching the proper curriculum during normal school hours and only those who pay these extra lessons are going to pass but I think that that’s a tiny minority. What I see in most of the schools I go to is dedicated teachers who against tremendous odds are trying to do the right thing for children.

Guma: From Girl Child rights activist Betty Makoni comes the following question – she says there are 8000 girls married in Johanne Marange Church in Zimbabwe and girls are not in classrooms but in bedrooms. How can the school monitor children of school age that they are in school? She says that we have a full list of girls in bedrooms and working in people’s houses as house maids and if the minister wants it we can submit. What can we do to have social workers in schools to curb this menace?

Coltart: Let me deal with that in terms of the specific issue raised and then I’ll go to more general response. Specifically (inaudible) being kept deliberately out of school and as you say kept in bedrooms then that needs to be reported to the local district education officer and of course to the local representatives of social welfare, of the Social Welfare department because that is a breach of our law, it is a violation of those individual girls’ rights and we have mechanisms to ensure that those girls are protected and that is an intolerable situation.

But let me turn now to more general response – Lance, one of the great tragedies of what is going on in Zimbabwe is that we’ve got a huge drop-out rate that doesn’t just apply to girls but also to boys. What we are seeing at primary school level especially in rural settings is that in some schools two thirds of the children who start in Grade One have dropped out by the time they get to Grade Seven.

There’s also a massive drop-out rate between primary school and secondary school so this isn’t an issue that just applies to individual religious sects or to the girl child, it is a major problem that we face that because education is under funded, because many parents cannot afford to pay for secondary education, these children drop out and it’s creating potentially a massive social (inaudible).

I go back to this central theme – we need to fund education adequately and we need to have programmes which will ensure that these drop out rates are cut so that we get a much higher percentage of children going right the way through, to at the very least to the age of 16 which really is the first time that they should be moving out of the school environment.

Guma: From Joiline Chiponda Sengwayo comes the question – she wants to know are there any plans to introduce entrepreneurship as a subject in schools?

Coltart: Lance I’m delighted that your listener has raised that question because I’ve just recently signed off on a deal with the Open Society Institute for them to fund to the tune of three million US dollars a comprehensive review of our curriculum. Traditionally our curriculum has been very much academic in its orientation; we need to change that, we need to bring in more vocational and practical subjects such as entrepreneurship and that is what is going to be done in the course of the next two years.

We’ve got a very ambitious programme, we’re going to be completely revamping the Curriculum Development Unit in Mount Pleasant, bringing in Apple computer technology, connection to the internet, we want to bring in our best educational brains to the Curriculum Development Unit and expand the scope of our education so that it is more practical, it’s more applicable to the needs of Zimbabwean society than it has been in the past.

In the past we’ve often generated a lot of academic students who hadn’t been able to get jobs within Zimbabwe, we need to change that; we’re not going to of course dispense with an academic education but we need to ensure that children who are more business orientated or farming orientated, practically orientated come out of school with the practical education which they can immediately use in business and in the work place.

Guma: From a guy calling himself Mutambara is the question – teachers as stakeholders in the provision of educational services in schools, or rather teachers are stakeholders in the provision of educational services in schools – what part as a percentage do they contribute to the policies implemented by your ministry?

Coltart: Teachers play a major role in the development of our policies; obviously all our civil servants, our district education officers, our provincial education directors, our senior management are all teaching professionals so they, at that level, play arguably the biggest role of anybody in the formulation of policy but we also try to take into account the views of current teachers through trade union representatives.

I have representatives of all three trade unions on my National Education Advisory Board. We are currently in the process of revising education regulations. Teacher representatives will be brought in on that process, so I have tried since taking over two years ago to make sure we are as inclusive as possible and take into account the views of what of course is our greatest asset namely our teachers.

Guma: And probably the final issue, we have a question on teachers’ incentives. Various arguments from various people describing them as divisive; what’s your take on this whole issue of teachers’ incentives Senator Coltart?

Coltart: Lance this has been a vexed issue; we brought it in two years ago to enable the education sector to survive. Had we not done so in 2009 I have no doubt that the haemorrhaging of teachers would have continued and the system would have collapsed. I think that had we not legalised this arrangement we may have driven the practice underground and made criminals of our teachers so I have no apology to make for having kept the system in place for the last two years.

But we all acknowledge and I’ve acknowledged several times that this has been highly divisive; it’s been divisive between teachers and parents and of course it’s been divisive even within the teaching profession because teachers in urban areas tend to get much greater incentives than teachers generally in rural areas so we recognise that we have to end the policy as soon as possible and I’ve said repeatedly that we will end it as soon as we can guarantee that we as a government can pay teachers a viable wage and retain them in the teaching profession.

But we’re just kidding ourselves if I were to abolish incentives overnight if we think that it would end this practice. It would drive it underground or it would result in teachers at this stage seeking greener pastures elsewhere which is not in the best interests of children. So I am the first one to accept that it’s divisive, that it’s a practice that needs to be ended as soon as possible and I’m committed to that but only once I can guarantee that we’re not going to cause major disruption to the education of our children.

Guma: How do we arrive at that stage where you are able to overcome these hurdles that force you to employ systems like teachers’ incentives? People listening in will be wondering what’s the magic bullet that will sort this out or what needs to happen?

Coltart: Well there’s no magic bullet because it will take a variety of measures to address this. At its core is the nation’s economy and the amount of money coming into the fiscus. We need to get the diamond receipts coming in, we need to get coherent economic policies and investment policies so that the economy grows and more tax is paid and there’s more money available for the minister of Finance to allocate to teachers. That is the core issue.

Then obviously tied into that is the question of the audit of the civil service to make sure that we are paying people who are actually working so that those dedicated teachers who are at their classrooms week in and week out are paid and that we don’t have ghost workers being paid for work they are not doing.

Then of course we need to stabilise the political environment. The international community has told me that they will not support recurrent expenditure such as teachers’ salaries whilst the political uncertainty persists so we need to agree amongst all three of the political parties who’re signatories to the Global Political Agreement that we’re going to stop this bickering, that we’re going to complete the constitutional reform process, that we’re going to agree on free and fair elections and go through that process and I have no doubt that once we do that, that we will unlock a lot more support from the international community.

And then finally we need to rationalise our laws, make the system of payment of levies and fees more transparent and to introduce more accountability. I never want to get to a situation where parents play no role whatsoever in the education of our children; it’s one of the unique features of Zimbabwe’s education system that parents are involved and whilst they are paying a very heavy price today and we need to lessen that, I think it’s important that we keep parents’ involvement in some way because ironically that is one of the key elements in guaranteeing a quality education for our children.

Guma: You raised an important issue there and if I could just add a question on it: the audit into the civil service, your ministry is one of those heavily affected by this. Now we were told that the report, the audit was given to cabinet in November last year and what’s the latest on it because it seems it has not yet been discussed conclusively?

Coltart: Well obviously Lance I’m not at liberty to discuss the finer detail of it; suffice it to say that yes, this audit report compiled by Ernest and Young has been submitted to cabinet, I have read it, I can say this that it does not focus on the Ministry of Education, there are some queries but we’re not the main problem area as identified in the report and it is the subject of an on-going and very intense discussion within cabinet. In fact it was discussed in cabinet yesterday and it hasn’t been resolved yet but we need to resolve it in the interests of all Zimbabwean children and the people generally.

Guma: Well Zimbabwe that was Education Minister Senator David Coltart joining us on part two of this Question Time interview. Senator Coltart thank you so much for your time.

Coltart: Thank you Lance, good night.

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