AT the beginning of this year, the Government launched a new education curriculum that brought with it a lot of changes in the education sector.
It was received with mixed feelings by the country’s populace with those spearheading its implementation being demonised as it came against a background of lack of resources with the Government’s recruitment freeze causing a shortage of teachers in schools.
As if that was not enough the announcement by the ministry that parents could sell their livestock to pay their children’s school fees was greeted with a social media frenzy, miscontrued to say parents can take their livestock to schools, and got the nation laughing.
Sunday News senior reporter Tinomuda Chakanyuka (TC) spoke to the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education Dr Sylvia Utete-Masango (Dr UM) on these and a variety of other issues that have been of interest.
Excerpts of the interview are below:
TC: The new curriculum is now one term into its implementation. What are your impressions so far?
DR UM: It’s not so much an impression but maybe taking stock of where we are and what we are planning to do, I think that is what is of essence. I can safely say the schools are doing well in terms of those grades or levels that are in the new curriculum. As you very well know that it is actually staggered, we did not implement the new curriculum the wholesale. So far we have had teams going out and monitoring the progress, there might be some areas that need revisiting, that was the whole reason why we phased the implementation of the new curriculum.
TC: You mentioned areas that need revisiting. Which areas are those?
DR UM: I was in Bulawayo recently to officiate at the conference for what we used to call Home Economics. The new curriculum is looking at those technical vocational areas as industry focused, but our teachers are still thinking about them in the old way so I had to arrange with Carousel Clothing Company for a tour. I could not take everyone as the attendance was over 650, so I had to take the leadership only. They were walked through and when we came back, before I addressed them, I asked them if they still think that Home Economics is still what we should continue to embrace and they said no, we now have to think differently. So these are some of the areas which I said the shift has been slow but still we are expecting that they should fall in line, especially in technical training areas, but the other areas are in sync with the new curriculum. I’m sure you have had an opportunity to witness the festivals that we held, at school and cluster levels where they were now showcasing these learning areas in practical terms.
TC: The minister has said some teachers and some school heads are yet to grasp the thrust of the new curriculum, what is being done to make sure that this is achieved at the earliest possible time?
DR UM: I think this should be expected with anything that is new. This is something new and its human nature that we might not see it in the same way and also the level of understanding might differ from people to people. But we have a lot of advocacy, as you recall through the print media and electronic media. Right now on ZBC, every Tuesday, we have a radio programme where we are unpacking the new curriculum. We have also engaged the Sunday News, for example, in trying to respond to some of these areas. The training, as I’m talking, is ongoing, it was not a once-off thing. So from continuing to engage with the heads and the teachers, because it’s them who make things happen, we are even printing more curriculum frameworks so that each teacher has a copy.
TC: The Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) has petitioned Parliament to halt implementation of the new curriculum, citing a number of concerns. What is your response to the union’s stance?
DR UM: It’s quite interesting to say the least. I would not expect that union to be double faced, because under the curriculum we have five pillars that anchor the new curriculum. One of the pillars is the establishment of the Teaching Professions Council (TPC) and the working party or working team is made up of all the associations, PTUZ included. They have gone outside the country, they have even visited countries overseas and we are working with them. So if this is a component of the new curriculum, which curriculum do they not want to be implemented when they are directly involved. So I don’t know which curriculum they don’t want implemented. Maybe it’s a campaign gimmick. They (PTUZ) are part and parcel of the changes we are implementing, so I don’t see how you could then turn and say ah ah we don’t want the new curriculum.
TC: The new curriculum has been criticised by some for failing to dovetail with and complement the STEM initiative. It is viewed as emphasising less on Maths and Science subjects but more on Arts, Sports, Mass Displays and other such disciplines. What’s your reaction to such criticism?
DR UM: I think we tend to be very negative as a people because each ministry has its own mandate, you very well know the mandate of the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education. Science is their core. So what they are advancing is not contradicting what the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education is promoting. We have started, as a ministry and rightly so, we have started at infant level, that is your four years olds, ECD to Grade Two. If you look at the learning areas Mathematics, Technology and Science start at that age. These are the core sciences that we are talking about. What we are saying is we need to build the foundation at that early age and the concepts are built from that early age and then at junior level we separate Mathematics as a stand-alone subject and Science as a stand-alone. Here we are talking of core or proper science and technology and we move on like that. The curriculum is broad. It’s not everyone who is scientifically inclined, and I don’t think we can build the country with just science people. We need everyone. We need the journalists to move the agenda of the country. We need sportsmen as a country, we need artistes, and we need economists. You can’t then ask why we are promoting those areas. There is a niche there and we are saying each learner will actually find his or her place in this education system.
TC: Let’s turn to the most recent topical issue. Livestock and labour in lieu of school fees for parents who cannot afford to raise school fees for their children. The suggestion created a lot of social media debate. How feasible is this arrangement?
DR UM: I thought these are ideas that are being floated and these ideas have not yet been concretised. There hasn’t been any official communication to that fact. So what we would be expecting are further suggestions from the stakeholders, to say under these circumstances can we not look at these possible actions so that we don’t sort of stifle schools. Schools can actually stop functioning because if they are not getting any funding it means we compromise standards, we compromise teaching and learning. We have not had anyone coming up with alternative or some further options that could be pursued under such circumstance. We remain open to suggestions. Those of our age, our parents were not formally employed as such. They had to find ways, without waiting for schools to organise things for them. Whatever they had, it could be in material form, because the school wants money, they would dispose of whatever they had in order to raise money to pay school fees. In some cases, for example most of us who hail from the rural areas, our parents would brew beer and sell. They were creative because they valued education. They would do anything possible to ensure that we received the education that we got. This is the sort of culture that seems to be missing in this era.
TC: Government has initiated the process of establishing a Teaching Professions Council. Tell us more about this initiative, its aims and objectives.
DR UM: There is a working party made up of the five teachers’ unions that are recognised, that are officially registered, then the Ministry of Public Services also represented. This council is expected to professionalise the education sector. Its aim is to register anyone who has to practice as a teacher, and for you to be a teacher you have to be a qualified one. That means it’s not enough to have a degree. You are not a teacher if you just have your degree, you must have the teaching diploma or what we call pedagogy for you to qualify as a teacher. If you are not registered you are not eligible to practice as a teacher. Then there is a code of conduct that is agreed by the profession and definitely if you then go against the code of conduct as agreed, there will be consequences. Just in the same manner that happens with the Law Society of Zimbabwe, if your embezzle Trust funds there will be consequences, or with doctors and their Medical Council, if you don’t play ball the consequences are known. So it’s the same things with this council, they will regulate and ensure that teachers conform. If you don’t conform then the consequences are there. Depending on the gravity of the matter you can either be warned or suspended for a given period or you can be de-registered. If you are de-registered you cannot practice and you cannot cross over to other countries in the (Sadc) region and think that you can practice there, because they will come back to us to check if you are registered with the council and if you are not they won’t take you. It’s a regulatory body, it is professionalising the profession. It is this council that will make sure that teachers are abreast of the changes in the sector, for example there might be stipulated workshops that the teacher is expected to attend in a year and if you miss those workshops that means you are not in sync with the trends and unfit to practice.
TC: How much ground has been covered so far and when can we expect this council to be in place?
DR UM: Quite a lot of ground has been covered. Right at the moment, it’s consultations. That working party that I have just alluded to went on a study tour in Scotland and Ireland to compare notes. We also had a meeting here with South Africa, because they already have a council and we shared their experiences. A draft report was put together and this report is now what is being circulated to the teachers. We went on an outreach programme and covered all the 10 provinces. We had specified in terms of the representation, where we said from each district apart from the district heads, we must have school head, head of department (HOD), senior teachers, and two or three teachers from each secondary school and for primary schools we had school heads and teachers in charge (TIC) and senior teachers. That composition was representative and it made up a cohort or a committee which had to now go back and consult with the larger teacher population. We have a group chat on Whatsapp with district schools inspectors. So they have been communicating and even providing a register of who has attended and their comments. So they have to collate the information that is coming and we come up with the draft that we will send it back to the teachers to say this is what you said, are there still any gaps. After that, definitely the process will start.
We are expecting that, hopefully all things being equal by 2018 that council should be place. Remember there is the legal aspect to it. It has to go through Parliament and the like.
TC: PTUZ have expressed concern that Government was leading the process of establishing a TPC. They feel that teachers should be leading the process.
DR UM: Why didn’t they then lead? What stopped them from doing it? We are 37 years into independence. Where were they? What has stopped them from leading?
TC: At the end of last year we saw the introduction of the electronic registration for Form 1 application EMap. How successful was the initial implementation and is it the way to go into the future or there are chances we may revert to the old system of entrance tests?
DR UM: I think we need to be very clear there because the electronic registration system was only for boarding and the population that can be absorbed in boarding schools was communicated to all and sundry. For the day schools it was just a matter of going to a school within your catchment area, it did not require any of this electronic process. From this process it was 75 percent successful, and quite a number of parents were giving use feedback to say that they realised they were saving in that they just received acceptance notice on their cell-phones as well the breakdown of the requirements from the respective schools, which to me is really a move in the right direction, if we are to keep in sync with the expectations of the 21st century. We are in the technological era. You take for example, cell-phones. When we first had the hang of cell-phones in 1998 thereabout, you could count the number of people with cellphones, but now almost everyone has a cell-phone. There was no school where people were taught how to use cell-phones yet even your grannies in the rural areas now know how to operate the gadgets. The same with all these mobile money transfer facilities. That’s how technology works and people adapt.
TC: The sort of challenges that EMAP tries to solve are also evident at Lower Six enrollment. Is there likelihood that the same system may be used for enrollment at that level?
DR UM: Form One is clear. Form Five because of the pathways it is very difficult to actually use the electronic registration. You would have to do some study so that it does achieve the intended objectives. Of course there are those who very positive. We got positive comments to say, there are gaps on the registration form which we need to address. That’s positive because then we can improve and you can only improve if you are doing something. That’s how we should look at it. For example the password that was used, this came also as a comment to say, maybe you can start with that password but we quickly as a school change that password so that we can have our own password. That was one of the comments and then another on the selection of schools. We were not ranking we were actually opening opportunities to the parents to say the three schools that a parent would have selected should be of equal weighting but they made it to understand that they were ranking to say that this is our best choice. From the three it didn’t mean that the other options would have to wait until this one has rejected. So if you are chosen by your third option your name already will be dropped to avoid double allocations.
TC: There was court challenge against implementation of the EMap system. What became of the case?
DR UM: It wasn’t an issue at the courts. The courts just dismissed it. In fact the guys came to me with their idea, because they wanted to make money with their own application. They had their own registration and they were saying parents would come to them and they do the rest after and we asked them how they would then link up with the school because they had no connection with the school. A parent would come with necessary particulars of their child and pay. What then happens if the parent fails to secure a place for their child when they have paid? That was the issue.
TC: The Government announced the construction of additional schools. What’s the latest on that and when do we expect the construction to be complete.
DR UM: The Infrastructure Development Bank, under the joint venture partnership, are the ones who are handling it and a lot of ground work Has been done , they have engaged consultant and will flight an advert for companies to respond to them because companies will feel secure as it would have been done through the bank. That’s how far we are with the joint venture. on the other fund, the open fund the 20 million, a consultant has been engaged and the 17 school have been surveyed and the Department of Public Works have already done the topographical surveys in schools and we are expecting the advert anytime next month and the construction of 17 schools that have been identified province by province depending on the need should start latest may be in June.
TC: Let’s move on and talk about the teacher capacity development programme. How much progress has been made so far?
DR UM: We have teachers who graduated in Novemeber from ZOU and these were degreed without teacher certificates, I think they were about 165 out of the 2500.
TC: When is the next batch of teachers going to enroll and have you secured the necessary funding?
DR SUM: At the moment yes, the intention is there, but we are waiting for the resources to be put together. Otherwise from our plan, this is an ongoing program.
TC: There are some teachers who are still in the system but do not have the request teaching qualification. What is their fate, seeing that Government is moving with speed to ensure that all teachers have the requisite qualifications?
DR UM: ZOU (Zimbabwe Open University) has come up with a post-graduate diploma in education programme and this was accredited by ZIMCHE (Zimbabwe Council for Higher Education) in 2016. So we have quite a number, we have actually been taking statistics and we have communicated to provinces encouraging those with no pedagogy to actually take up the diploma.
Those that have non-teaching degrees have actually taken up the diplomas and they are at varying levels of training. The Civil Service Commission (CSC) has asked us to submit names and statistics of those that are in the system and do not have teaching qualifications but have degrees and they are been redeployed in ministries that would need their areas of expertise.
Some have been deployed to the department of immigration, and quite a number of economists have been redeployed to the ministry of economic planning and some have been deployed to the Ministry of rural development. This rationalisation is ongoing.
TC: You have mentioned before that your ministry requires an additional 7 000 teachers. What is being done to ensure that those teachers have been recruited?
DR UM: There has been discussion at the highest level that is at cabinet level, I think something is coming out soon. We are just waiting for official communication, because we must get Treasury concurrence because this is an additional cost to Government. As you know 90 percent of the revenue is going to salaries. We have done all the preparatory work so that once we get the node then it should not take time for us to engage the teachers, because the teachers are there. We also have to consider areas that have critical shortage, like the infants, mainly because statistics are there. We know exactly the shortage that we have and at what level so we need to rationalize. We also have a critical shortage in Mathematics and Sciences. At the moment we are doing replacements, because they are budgeted. For example if a teacher dies, retires or absconds we have to replace because that post would have already been budgeted for, for 2017.
TC: Will the 7000 teachers take you to the staff complement that you desire as a Ministry?
DR UM: I think if we can’t look at what we desire then it can be anything, but we are saying what the Government can afford.
We also need to be very realistic because Government is very sensitive to this area. His Excellency is very sensitive and if he could have it his own way and funds permitting he would say let’s have all the teachers in the classroom but then the pocket may not allow him.
TC: Lastly, the Ministry issued a directive to schools to have levies administered by Government. What became of the directive as we have observed that SDCs and SDAs are still actively involved in administration of levies in schools? Did Government rescind the directive?
DR UM: There was never a directive, and circulars are issued by the permanent secretary and I don’t remember issuing such a circular. I don’t think I could be that forgetful. What is happening now is that the Education Act and Statutory Instruments are being repealed so that they conform to the new Constitution. So a lot of ground work has been done and our legal section has been out working with the Ministry of Justice because they are the ones that are responsible. It is from the outcome of what they will then submit to us that we can then talk of the issues that we having now. Otherwise as of now, nothing has changed until the legal frameworks are addressed.
TC: Thank you very much Dr Utete-Masango for your time.