Zimbabwe: Another crippling blow for education sector

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Zimbabwe’s cash-strapped unity government is facing a fresh crisis as teachers have vowed to strike for a “significant improvement” of their allowances when the new school term opens next Tuesday.

A teachers’ strike could have a domino effect and convince the entire civil service to demand an improvement on the US$100 monthly allowances which they have been receiving since a unity government was sworn in on February 13.

Last year only 28 days of schooling were recorded, probably the worst in the world.

Tendai Chikowore, president of the country’s largest teachers’ union, Zimbabwe Teachers Association (ZIMTA), said: “Educators will not report for the opening of the second school term as from May 5, 2009, until there is a significant improvement on their remuneration in foreign currency.”

The resolution was reached at ZIMTA’s 28th national conference last week and made public on Tuesday night.

Teachers are also concerned that the government has shot down proposals by civil service unions for support in paying school fees for members’ children which are significantly higher than their allowances.

Chikowore added: “We are concerned that in spite of the concerted efforts by educators to address their plight on the payment of their children’s school fees, the issue remains unresolved. ZIMTA has observed that the inclusive government has not come up with a strategy of resolving the salary concerns of educators.”

Finance Minister Tendai Biti has said the country’s foreign currency receipts are significantly lower than needed to pay the civil servants and stabilise the economy after a decade-long decline fuelled by weak policy making, corruption and western sanctions.

Attempts to entice western financial support for the inclusive government of President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai have so far attracted little interest, with most western powers insisting on reforms in agriculture, justice delivery and human rights.

Mr. Biti met officials from the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the US State Department this week to unlock support for the new government. As he headed for Europe on Wednesday, he warned that inaction could plunge Zimbabwe into unprecedented political turmoil.

The government says it needs US$8bn over the next two years to halt the tide of economic decline and put the country back on the path to recovery.

Last year, teachers went on strike when classes began in January, demanding pay increases and better working conditions. The strike was briefly suspended following a deal with the government but in the month of August the same year the teachers embarked on an indefinite strike.

Most schools including the University of Zimbabwe (UZ), the National University of Science and Technology (NUST), Midlands State University (MSU) and Chinhoyi University of Technology (CUT) all failed to open their doors after the scheduled resumption of studies last year.

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