There is growing concern that rural secondary schools, especially those commonly referred to as upper tops which mushroomed after independence and are largely responsible for churning out half-baked pupils with four years of secondary education without the required five O-levels, could be in for a bad spell as the Ministry of Education steps up its efforts to improve the quality of education but guided by the stringent measures under the structural adjustment programme.
The schools are not only loaded with the chuff from Grade Seven, or those better pupils whose parents cannot afford or are not able to ship their children either to boarding or urban schools, but they also have the problem of attracting qualified and experienced staff because of poor living conditions.
Besides, most of them are not registered and therefore are headed by teaching headmasters who besides being required to do administrative work are also considered as fulltime teachers.
The ministry has, however, emphatically denied that the quality of education, particularly in rural secondary schools will deteriorate.
The Insider, has been informed that even the main teachers’ organization, the Zimbabwe Teachers’ Association (ZIMTA), has already expressed its concern to government about this, especially the aspect that headmasters should also teach.
Teachers from rural secondary schools, and some headmasters, have told The Insider that their fears are centred on a circular that instructs headmasters to enforce strict staffing requirements otherwise they will either be charged or asked to pay the salaries of the extra teachers.
A copy of the circular which The Insider has, reads: “Headmasters are requested to fill the forms on staffing and enrollment returns … It is important to realise that the filled in form will be accompanied by all teachers’ time tables. The form can only be meaningful to us if individual teachers’ timetables are also inserted.
“Heads are requested to give accurate enrolment figures at the levels stated. The teachers’ establishments represented on the form by Trs & Est. can be calculated using teacher-pupil ratios at the levels. At Z.J.C. it will be your total enrolment at this level divided by 33, e.g. if a school had 256 pupils at this level, this would give a teacher establishment calculated thus 256 divided 33 = 8 teachers approximately.
“This same process should be repeated at other levels with the teacher-pupil ratio relevant at these levels i.e. at O-level you divide total establishment at this level by 30 and at A by 20.
“Headmasters are by this same circular reminded to observe the terms laid down in … circular minute number 21 of 1990. According to this circular, no school, no matter how sound or justifiable their reasons may be, is supposed to overstaff (emphasis in circular).
“Heads are to furnish district officers with figures of pupils above their enrolment establishments of last year, and these offices will in turn inform the regional office with a view that having gathered all extra pupils can make a case with head office to be allowed to hire extra teachers.
“Any officer found guilt of providing false statistics may be charged or asked to pay the salaries for the extra teachers.”
Those who complained about these new measures said although the teacher-pupil ratio used was reasonable in that a class would be manageable, this formula would have worked superbly in primary schools where each class has a single teacher. In secondary school, teachers were specialised. Moreover they had a maximum workload of 36 periods a week for an ordinary teacher, 28 for a head of department and 16 for a teaching headmaster.
Subjects like mathematics and science had a regulated six periods a week, English six periods a week at ZJC and four at O-level and all other subjects four periods a week.
Because of these limitations, the teachers say the specialist English teacher cannot teach form One to Form Four if the school has two streams as this exceeds 36 periods. On the other hand if he were to teach only junior certificate he can teach both forms but will only have 12 periods for the second subject meaning he cannot teach all classes.
The teachers say since the emphasis seems to centre on mathematics, science, English and one other language (Shona or Ndebele), subjects like history, geography, bible knowledge, economics, commerce, home economics, accounts or bookkeeping, fashion and fabrics, metalwork, woodwork, and agriculture will suffer as teachers may not have time to spare for these subjects.
These teachers argue that the ministry is in a sense killing education with production which is meant to provide pupils with skills that will help them should they fail to find a white-collar job which is most likely since most of the pupils do not attain the five O-levels in the first place.
In a detailed reply to these allegations a spokesman for the Ministry of Education confirmed that the allocation of teachers to schools was based on the staffing formula laid in the circular quoted above.
“These figures, which include the head and his deputy, are based on the premise that no pupil takes more than two practical/technical subjects,” the spokesman said.
“Provision is also made for pupils whose pace of learning is so slow that they would be seriously disadvantaged if they were incorporated into the normal classes. Such pupils are allocated one teacher for every 19 pupils. These ratios are considered to be appropriate for quality teaching and learning in all subjects,” the spokesman said.
Our sources said the question of slow learners exists on paper only or at specialised schools in urban areas.
Investigations by The Insider have indicated that this also applies to primary schools. While in the former Group A schools there is provision for slow learners and special classes are arranged for them in the afternoons, the same does not apply to former Group B schools where it appears the only determinant is the Grade Seven results.
The spokesman said the ministry had established that teachers were a key factor in the education process and must be equitably distributed.
“While teachers are a crucial resource, they are the most expensive input in the system. More than 80 per cent of the Ministry’s recurrent expenditure goes towards the payment of teachers’ salaries. Any significant cost containment measures must therefore ensure that this expensive resource is used as economically as possible through the strict implementation of the stipulated staffing formula. Consequently, any staff under-utilisation which is brought about by overstaffing of schools should be avoided, especially during this period of economic austerity,” the spokesman said.
According to the estimates of expenditure of this year’s budget, out of the $521.070 million reserved for secondary education, $452.5 million is for subsistence and transport, $34 million for school services, $30 million for grants to private registered schools and $3.37 million for furniture and equipment.
The ministry spokesman said the current effort to effect tighter control over staffing levels would have no negative effects on the quality of education. On the contrary, it would result in savings which would then be invested in other sections of the system, for example, to purchase teaching/learning materials for use in schools.
On the teachers’ loads the spokesman said: “The period allocation for different subjects ranges from four periods to six periods per week. Mathematics and science are allocated six periods per week and Shona/Ndebele four periods per week from Form 1 to Form 1V. English (language), on the other hand, is given six periods per week at ZJC level and four periods per week at O-level.
“At present 3 341 or 12.2 per cent of the entire teaching force in secondary schools hold a university degree. The majority of these are trained to teach two subjects. Only a negligible minority hold an honours degree which limits them to teach one subject,” the spokesman said. “It is important to note that the maximum teaching loads stipulated for teachers, heads of departments and teaching heads are only a guide. In practice the loads allocated to different teachers depend on the staffing situation and demands of the curriculum followed by a particular school. This is a matter for the head of the school to decide, guided by the number of teachers, their qualifications, competence and experience vis-à-vis the nature and breadth of curriculum offered by the school.”
The spokesman went on: “As a rule, heads of secondary schools are professionals who are competent to make decisions over effective teacher utilisation. Under normal circumstances, therefore, ideal workload situations are attained without disadvantaging any classes. However, it is possible for one to pick out a few schools where two classes per form have been disadvantaged. Such situations should not be generalised since they do not reflect ministry policy.
“On the contrary, they might emanate from a school head’s failure to make optimum use of the available teachers and skills. Obviously the ministry would be unhappy about such situations, and district as well as regional officers would be prepared to assist any head who experiences problems in this regard.”
On rural day schools, the spokesman said: “The ministry is aware that the unfavourable conditions prevailing in rural schools, particularly in the rural day secondary schools, makes it very difficult for such schools to attract and retain qualified, competent, experienced and motivated teachers. Some of these schools are located in remote areas. Such conditions include inadequate or unsatisfactory provision of classroom and living accommodation, transport services, electricity, clean and safe water, among other services. Most of these factors cannot be changed or manipulated by the ministry, and they pose a serious threat to its programme of ensuring that these schools are as well staffed as their urban counterparts.
“However, the ministry has adopted strategies designed to address these problems. Firstly it attaches importance to rural service when considering its officers for promotions and in this way it hopes to attract better teachers into rural schools.
“Apart from this, the ministry has made service at a rural school mandatory to all newly qualified teachers. However, exceptions are granted in cases where such posting would cause serious adverse effects to an individual’s welfare, for example, marital or medical grounds.
“This programme has achieved limited success because some of these teachers seek transfers into urban areas upon the expiry of the mandatory two-year period, and their accumulated experience is thus lost to the urban schools. It is unfortunate that the ministry cannot completely overcome these problems by itself.”
The spokesman said in its quest for quality the ministry had adopted a number of strategies. The first was to curtail the expansion of the secondary school system by discontinuing the establishment of more schools.
“Accordingly from 1991 onwards new schools will only be established where the need is very pressing and where the establishment of such schools meets other requirements, for example, where quality or access are under threat instead, efforts will now be directed at consolidating the existing schools with the aim of improving their infrastructure, equipment and other resources. Great support will be given to those schools which have been disadvantaged all along.
“Secondly, the effectiveness of teaching and learning will be enhanced through more effective regular supervision of schools and teachers. Lastly, the management system of the education sector will receive greater support so that higher levels of efficiency and effectiveness are attained.”
The spokesman said the ministry’s current efforts were not only aimed at upgrading quality in education but also at enhancing the relevance of the school curriculum.
In pursuit of this the ministry embarked on the vocationalisation of the school curriculum but the fact that many secondary schools had not been able to vocationalise the curriculum fully was neither by willful design nor through neglect.
“A vocationalised curriculum demands more resource inputs in terms of facilities, for example, specialist rooms and workshops, equipment and specialist personnel. All of these are considerably more expensive than the traditional curriculum. Specialist teachers are no longer a problem, but facilities and equipment are still a problem.
“By far the majority of our secondary schools are fairly new, post-independence, institutions and cannot therefore be expected to have acquired all the facilities and equipment necessary for a full vocationalisation programme. The ministry attempts, however, with all means and resources available to it, to ensure that the minimum acceptable standards of educational provisions are implemented in all schools.
“The fact that some schools still remain far better off than others in terms of educational provisions is partly a result of historical realities, and partly a result of disparities in the different schools’ socio-economic setting. It is for this reason that the ministry is committed to the institution of measures aimed at narrowing this gap.”
On education with production, the spokesman said this was implemented across the entire school curriculum with the intention being to make subjects that were previously purely academic in nature to be more closely related to their practical application to reality.
The aim of this polytechnic type of education was to create a worker-intellectual -a product who appreciated the principles behind manual operations and applied theoretical knowledge to the practical solution of problems in the local environment.
“Thus it is important that education with production be implemented in English, mathematics, home economics, and agriculture alike. It would therefore be wrong to suggest that the concept of education with production is realised only through the inclusion of practical or technical subjects in the school curriculum.”
The spokesman said the ministry’s targets were ambitious but attainable. In view of the fact that the pre-independence education system was racial and was fraught with inequalities, the quantitative expansion witnessed soon after independence was necessary in order to urgently reform a system which was depraved. Considerations of quantitative expansion and the attainment of equity had therefore to take precedence over those of quality. With these targets largely achieved, the ministry was now taking new policy orientations.