HARARE – Rural-based teachers want Parliament to draft a new education law making it mandatory for government to fund basic education for all learners and provide more support for non-urban schools.
On Wednesday, senior members of the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (Artuz) met MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai in Harare to discuss the proposal and the future strategy.
Artuz said the engagement was part of a process to lobby political parties with parliamentary representation in Zimbabwe to include education reforms in their agenda.
The new push for legislation is meant to lobby for Tsvangirai’s support for the Education Bill through his sitting MPs.
MDC has 49 seats in Parliament while President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF has 160 seats in the 210-seat chamber, just short of two-thirds.
In calling for passage of the legislation, Artuz said it will also meet Zanu PF, the smaller MDC, the People’s Democratic Party and Renewal Democrats of Zimbabwe to outline its position and solicit support to education, particularly in the rural areas.
The association said it realised that political parties were instrumental in determining legislation and prioritisation of government energy, if elected into power or as opposition in Parliament and other structures.
It will also meet relevant civic organisations that have interest in rural development.
Artuz called for immediate passage of the bill.
“We want MDC MPs to support the Education Bill that must, among other things, force a sitting minister of Education to strive to attract and retain quality teachers in rural schools through attending to their welfare,” Artuz national president Obert Masaraure said.
This comes as a recent report by the parliamentary portfolio committee on Education found that the country’s rural teachers are overwhelmed with work, operating at a ratio of one teacher to 60 pupils, far over the government-pegged teacher-pupil ratio of one to 40.
“We demand that the Act must also make it mandatory for state to fund basic education of all learners in line with the Constitution,” Masaraure said.
At least 95 percent of Zimbabweans voted in a referendum in March 2013 to adopt a new Constitution expressly granting free primary education to all. Specifically, Section 75 (1) (a) of the new Zimbabwe Constitution provides for the right to State-funded basic education.
Despite this constitutional provision, government is yet to grant this right.
“The minister of Education must also be obliged by law to recognise all staff associations in line with Section 65 of the Constitution,” Masaraure said.
“All learners must be absorbed by a school in their locality in rural areas. No school in rural areas must be declared fully enrolled.”
MDC spokesperson Obert Gutu said as a social democratic political party that has historically associated itself with the marginalised and downtrodden people of society, the opposition party was more than willing and able to collaborate with the aspirations of Artuz in their quest to fight for the rights of both the rural teachers as well as the interests and welfare of rural learners.
“It is a fact that the majority of Zimbabweans live in rural areas and as such, the government is called upon to pay special and particular interest to the welfare of all rural communities,” Gutu told the Daily News.
“The call by Artuz is thus very noble and worthy of the support of all patriotic Zimbabweans. There is need to develop rural communities in order to curtail rural-urban migration that has seen the infrastructure and other facilities in all urban centres being over-stretched as they fail to cope with the influx of people who are fleeing grinding poverty that is rampant in most rural areas.”
The Association said it will implore opposition leaders to pledge that they will uplift rural education if elected into office.
It has also launched a campaign dubbed Todakudyawo, under which teachers plan to stage a go-slow, or work slowdown, to press demands for a 13th cheque after government failed to pay bonuses to civil servants.
The protest, announced last week, would come despite a plea from the government that the workers avoid industrial action.