Why teachers should have ‘incentives’

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A STORY is told of a game the Zimbabwe national soccer team played with the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Lenox Mhlanga

It was during an outbreak of the deadly Ebola disease and a number of players opted out of the team.

It was then decided that instead of forfeiting the game for which the Warriors would have been heavily fined, the team be flown in on the day of the game and out again.

Among the players who threw all caution to the wind to play in Kinshasa was the late Mercedes “Rambo” Sibanda. The enticements offered were just too good to ignore.

On their return to Harare International Airport, an ambulant Rambo, evidently showing no signs of the haemorrhagic fever, was asked why he took the risk.

“Would I have gone there if we did not have any intensives? No!” was his classic response.

Of course, he meant incentives. Which brings me to the debate that is raging at the moment on teachers’ intensives, sorry, incensives.

It all began when rumours started flying that the newly-appointed Education minister Lazarus Dokora, of the reconstituted Primary and Secondary ministry, was mulling their being scrapped.

Since then the unions have weighed in arguing that the government should come with a permanent solution by improving salaries.

Granted that the incentives were a creation of the unity government realising that it was unable to deliver when it came to improved conditions of service, it became apparent that only a fraction of the schools in the country could afford to pay the incentives.

Unions were also arguing that incentives were fuelling corruption among school heads and left rural schools in the cold.

Let me say at the outset that there is nothing patently wrong with the school development councils (SDCs) in consultation with its members who are the parents to decide on a levy to cover an incentive that will motivate teachers to perform at their best.

It’s an agreement between parents and the school to fill a yawning gap that the government has failed to fill.

I was a teacher for more than 12 years and at no point in my career did I profess to be happy with my salary.

At the time I wrote an article lamenting the profession as a “thankless job” given the fact that we shaped the hearts and minds of countless young citizens who later became productive in life.

The irony is that teachers remained with nothing to show for their hard work, at times being the laughing stock of the same pupils they taught when they rose up the ranks in whatever vocation they chose.

Even President Robert Mugabe once apologised for low teacher’s salaries.

It is a fact that it is the incentives that have kept most urban teachers in the system.

Removing then would be a disaster given the fact that the government in general and the public service in particular have failed to address the issue of giving the teachers a living salary.

Public political pronouncements have failed to move from fiction to reality.

It is, therefore, sad to see unions that are struggling to find relevance pontificating about incentives causing distorted growth in the education sector.

If parents are fine with using the little financial muscle they have to invest in their children’s education, then who are they to deny then that right?

They should use other methods to induce the government to take up their responsibility and invest in rehabilitating rural schools.

In any case, public service has over the years built a case for making rural teaching more attractive.

That is where the government money from whatever source, diamonds or no diamonds, should go instead of them throwing the spanner into SDC-driven incentives.

Please do not equate incentives with privatisation of schools. Those are two different issues.

If the government came to the party and fulfilled its promise as regards better salaries and conditions of service, then we wouldn’t be having this debate.

Let us place the responsibility where it squarely lies and stop shadow boxing in order to score political points.

The government should find the money to solve the problem.

If parents are fine with forking out a bit more to retain good teachers within schools like they have been doing in the elite institutions from time immemorial, let them do so.

If the government is content with making promise after promise, but with no solution in sight, then that is where the unions should step in.

Unions are under pressure to justify the subscriptions that are deducted from their members’ salaries. They should clearly be part of the solution and not part of the problem.

If the drive for the removal of incentives does gather pace and is subsequently implemented, then we are sure to witness an exodus of teachers heading for greener pastures.

 Lenox Mhlanga is a social commentator
 Twitter: @lenoxmhlanga