HARARE – Parents of children enrolling for Early Childhood Development (ECD) in public schools will have to foot the full bill to do with their offspring’s early education, including paying for teachers’ salaries, after Treasury stopped allocating resources towards this purpose.
In the past, government used to meet employment costs for ECD teachers at public schools unlike in private or elite schools where it is the responsibility of parents to fund the full cost relating to their children’s education.
In his 2018 National Budget, Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa made no provision for ECD learning, saying Treasury cannot afford to employ teachers for ECD.
He said government recognised the complementary role that parents play in ECD programmes, adding that the takeover of management and financing of ECDs was clearly beyond Treasury’s current capacity.
“It is proposed that the pending requests to recruit an additional 5 907 teachers at ECD level be shelved and pave way for parents and communities to continue supporting the provision of ECD services,” said the finance chief.
“Parents and communities participation in supporting the provision of ECD schooling services will save the fiscus an additional $36 million in employment costs per annum”.
At the moment, there is a deficit of 5 907 ECD teachers in public schools.
The development means that in essence, ECD teachers that were on government’s payroll will no longer be funded by Treasury.
The move is set to hit the pockets of parents who are already struggling to make ends meet in view of the prevailing economic meltdown.
In light of Chinamasa’s announcement, Primary and Secondary Education minister, Paul Mavhima, told the Daily News last week that parents basically have two options at their disposal.
It is either they will have to send their children to private schools or their School Development Committees (SDCs) will have to pay for the teachers’ salaries.
The second option essentially means that parents will have to fork out the money needed to pay ECD teachers’ salaries because SDCs are dependent on them for funding.
The first option is equally prohibitive in that private schools charge an arm and a leg in tuition since their education is not subsidised by government.
Parents will have no option by to dig deeper into their pockets to fund the additional costs because no pupil is allowed to proceed to Grade One before passing through ECD A and ECD B.
Mavhima said the ministry will either facilitate their employment by private schools or they will become the responsibility of SDCc in those public schools that can afford them.
“As a ministry, we are coming up with a strategy to say the teachers that we have in ECD we deploy them in schools that can afford to hire their own teachers. Then the remaining balance we push them through local appointments by those schools,” Mavhima said.
“For example, Alexandra Park School can afford to employ two ECD teachers because their levies are such that they can (afford to) do that. So we will use government resources (teachers) we have in less privileged places and get the schools that can afford to hire their own. And we are working on a programme to rationalise, but there won’t be any cuts,” he said.
The latest development means that government no longer has appetite to recruit more ECD teachers to bridge the gap in light of the policy change.
Before he left office, former Higher and Tertiary Education minister Jonathan Moyo had been pushing each primary teacher training college to churn out 300 ECD graduates per year until 2021 to meet national demand.
“We said the teachers that are currently in service are not going to be affected; they will continue but for now Treasury does not have resources to add on to ECD teachers so we are going to work with schools so that where there is the need the SDCs will assist us in recruiting those teachers,” said Mavhima.
Zimbabwe introduced a national ECD policy in 2004 that requires primary schools to offer a minimum of two ECD classes for children aged three to five years old.
As a result, primary teacher training colleges are now training ECD teachers who receive certified diplomas from the University of Zimbabwe upon completion of their course.
The ECD policy came as a result of recommendations by the Commission of Inquiry into Education undertaken in 1999 that came to be known as the Nziramasanga Commission.
The inquiry found that many children in rural and poor communities did not have access to early childhood services.
In the absence of budgetary allocation, it remains to be seen how government would continue to enforce ECD learning.
Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe secretary-general Raymond Majongwe said the new arrangement was unacceptable and an abdication of duty by government.
“If they can’t take care of the future of the country’s young people then we cannot trust them with anything. Why can’t they cut the other budgets in other areas such as Defence and Security so that we don’t destroy the future of our children because of just $36 million?
“The problem with this government is this culture of imposing things on people. Who did they consult to arrive at that decision? Were parents, teachers and other education stakeholders consulted? Do they realise that schools built infrastructure for the purpose of ECDs? What will happen to those? Can schools in rural areas, for example, afford to pay teachers’ salaries every month when children pay fees on a per term basis?
“We take great exception to such a decision as a union and we are going to resist that because people cannot abandon courses mid-flight. This is a national programme that should not be abandoned to enrich the few in government who have acquired farms and are now building private schools there as they have abandoned agriculture,” said Majongwe.
Zimbabwe Teachers Association chief executive officer, Sifiso Ndlovu, on the other hand said their understanding of the ECD is that it is the bedrock of any education that genuinely seeks to empower a people.
“We told the minister (Mavhima) at our meeting with him on Wednesday that we will not accept a situation whereby this important phase of learning is scrapped.
“We made it clear to him that Chinamasa’s budget is fighting the poor in that regard because it is provided for by the law that basic education is the responsibility on government.
“We are going to lobby as much as we can and we would also urge Parliament to reject such a proposal that is pro-rich and anti-poor. The minister assured us that he will engage Chinamasa,” said Ndlovu.