08/26/2009 10:32 – ZIMBABWE-EDUCATION – World News (ASI) – AFP
by Fanuel Jongwe
A teacher pinches a crumbling stub of chalk, holding a rag for an eraser in his other hand, as groups of pupils huddle around scarce textbooks for their lessons in a poor Harare suburb.
"Things are not well," the primary school's head Islam Madosi told. "The whole system is down.
"There are shortages of everything that is required for the smooth running of the school, from textbooks down to basic requirements like chalk."
Six months into Zimbabwe's unity government, this classroom on the outskirts of the capital is typical of schools in a country that once boasted one of Africa's best education systems.
Without supplies, schools are having to improvise to keep their classes running, after thousands of teachers fled due to economic hardship and the political violence of the last year.
"If you look at textbooks for example, ideally each pupil should have their own textbook or share at a ratio of one textbook for three pupils," Madosi said.
"But we have a situation where seven and in some cases 12 pupils share one book. In the worst cases, some textbooks are just not available – or only the teacher has a personal copy.
"In the end the teacher spends most of his time doing clerical work, that is, copying exercises and writing on the board."
The crisis in Zimbabwe's state-run schools threatens the country's status as one of the most literate societies on the continent. It is one of the biggest challenges facing the six-month-old unity government.
Education Minister David Coltart told a parliamentary committee recently that the country had lost more than 20,000 teachers since 2007.
Worst affected, he said, was the southern Matabeleland province, where many qualified English and math teachers had crossed the border to South Africa, where starting salaries are about 8,000 rand (about 1,000 dollars, 700 euros).
School teachers in Zimbabwe earn the equivalent of 170 dollars a month, which is why they often practise what they call "remote control teaching". This is when a pupil takes charge of the class while they hawk candy or other goods on the schoolgrounds to supplement their meagre income.
The government says it simply has no money to pay more, leaving authorities powerless to plug the brain-drain.
Last year, those teachers still struggling to make a living in Zimbabwe, staged a prolonged strike which saw most pupils in class for a total of only 28 days.
And even when students took national exams last year they had to wait months for their results – the government had no money to pay to have the tests graded.
Teachers' unions called off their strike after the formation of the new power-sharing government in February, as Coltart promised to ask donors for money to pay salaries.
But six months later, no one has offered to help with teachers' salaries and unions have warned that they could stage a fresh strike next month unless their wages are increased.
"We have demonstrated good faith by subsidising the government for the past six months, teaching dutifully and sheepishly waiting for a salary review, while sacrificing our dignity in exchange of meaningless and humiliating incentives," the Progressive Teachers' Union of Zimbabwe said in a statement.
Coltart said the education system needs two billion dollars to fully recover. The government is now collecting a mere 70 million dollars a month – and education got just one percent of its requested budget.
"Last year was a tragedy," Coltart said. "It's very difficult to recover from it. It's like a traffic accident where you are injured and you have a scar which you are going to carry for the rest of your life."
08/26/2009 10:31 – LIFESTYLE-INDIA-ART – World News (ASI) – AFP
by Rupam Jain Nair
For the past two decades, Indian artists have had to watch in envy as foreign buyers showered recognition and cash on their Chinese peers.
But after years of institutional neglect, they finally seem to be getting the support they need to push their work on an international market that has traditionally focused on established artists in East Asia.
Last week saw the biggest-ever gathering of contemporary galleries in the country with the four-day India Art Summit, which aims to establish itself alongside other shows such as the now well-known Shanghai art fair.
"This is just the beginning. The summit is still growing, just like Indian contemporary art," said Neha Kirpal, associate director of the event.
Like other experts, Kirpal concedes that China is "way ahead" of India in terms of the development of its art market.
Visitors to the summit were struck, however, by the broad range of contemporary art on display, the interest of foreign galleries and the professional organisation.
Last year, the first edition of the summit had three international galleries. This year 17 participated despite the economic slowdown, Kirpal said.
But for Indian artists to reach a bigger audience, industry insiders say the supporting infrastructure must be improved – a common problem in all areas of life in India.
Art schools, galleries, museums and public funds are all lacking.
"Can anybody enlighten me about the government's role in promoting art?" said Dadiba Pundole, owner of the Pundole art gallery in Mumbai, one of India's oldest galleries.
"They have failed miserably and it is only the private players that have kept the scene alive."
The country has a legacy of artwork going back 9,000 years but there are just a handful of prominent galleries in India for thousands of artists and only a few crumbling museums, built between 1910-1920 by the British.
"The total number of art schools can be counted on one's fingertips," said Kirpal.
Yamini Mehta, director of modern and contemporary Indian art at the Christie's auction house in London, says the Indian art business is gathering momentum but the absence of institutional support is a problem.
"There has not been much institutional support and resources for the visual arts in India as there has been in China," Mehta told.
She says the Chinese authorities have promoted the arts heavily since the 1980s to compensate for the loss of creativity during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s.
The Cultural Revolution tried to annihilate previous art practices, the sort of disturbance that India has never experienced.
Unlike Chinese art, however, much of the work by Indians is still bought by Indians, making the market inward-looking and limiting its development internationally.
"Most Indians buy indigenous works, which is a good way to start collecting art but gradually Indian art has to step out of its own borders for wider acceptance," said Stefan Wimmer from the Beck & Eggling art gallery in Germany, which had a display at the art summit.
The rise of India's business elite is also creating a class of people ready to splash cash on domestic art, promising a brighter future for local galleries and artists.
"There are the fixed [established] clients and there are the new clients who have invested in houses, cars, jewellery but are looking for more. Art is their preferred choice," says Shilpa Dugar of krishala arts, a gallery based in the southern Indian city of Chennai.
For now, prices for Indian art are off the highs reached in 2002-2008 when international auction houses recorded record sales for the country's celebrated artists M.F. Husain, F.N. Souza, S.H. Raza or Satish Gujaral.
The market has fallen sharply, spelling bad news for some Indian galleries, particularly those that overstretched themselves during the boom years such as Bodhi, which has shut many of its international spaces.
"Indian art had become too pricey till last year. This year everyone is happy to reduce the prices by 25 to 30 percent," an Indian art buyer who refused to be named told AFP.
Indian artists must also contend with constraints on their freedom of expression, a right guaranteed under the Indian Constitution but one which has been under attack from religious extremists.
The country's most acclaimed painter was conspicuous by his absence at last week's event because of fears for his security.
M.F. Husain, 94, has angered hardline Hindus by portraying Hindu deities in the nude or in a sexually suggestive manner and his work and home have been attacked.