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Zimbabwe students without books

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."