The government has apologised after teachers who cannot speak Ndebele were recruited to take infant classes in Bulawayo.
Officials are blaming a computer-based teacher deployment software and “possible corruption” for the error, which has caused outrage in Matabeleland, and Bulawayo in particular. Locals say most of the teachers recruited on a list published on March 8 were Shona speakers, whereas government policy is that the language of command for infant classes and the first three years of primary school is the mother language of the majority of pupils.
The Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education said the teachers wrongly deployed were now being recalled, and will likely be redeployed elsewhere.
“In line with the ministry’s policy, the deployment of teachers at infant level takes into consideration the language of instruction, especially the mother tongue spoken by the learners themselves,” the ministry’s secretary Tumisang Thabela told a news conference in Harare on Monday.
“For this reason, measures are being taken to rectify the deployment mismatch that was noted so that the rights of learners as enshrined in the Constitution are safeguarded. The ministry takes note of the concerns raised particularly by Bulawayo Province with regards to mismatch in the deployment of teachers at infant level. It is a result of some glitches in the e-recruitment process and due attention is being given to this issue by the ministry.
“The ministry would like to apologise to the nation, the affected communities and recruited teachers for any inconveniences caused as the ministry goes through e-recruitment for the first time in order to improve efficiency and subsequently root out possible corruption in the recruitment process.”
Last Friday, Zimbabwe held delayed commemorations of International Mother’s Language Day (IMLD), and Thabela – in a speech read on her behalf – underscored the importance of the mother’s language in foundational education. She suggested teachers may need to learn at least three indigenous languages to be competitive on the job market.
“Since learners are supposed to learn in their mother’s language in the first four years of their education, the ministry requires a trained primary school teacher to know at least three indigenous languages because that will be the medium of instruction … from the 16 official languages it is possible,” Thabela said.
The Progressive Teachers’ Union, which was represented at the event, accused the government of trying to mask its failures to recruit locals in Matabeleland with the new proposal, which it said
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) regional officer for Southern Africa Moses Mukabeta, who also spoke at the event, said Zimbabwe had failed to meet United Nations guidelines which stipulates that learners should be taught in indigenous languages in the first six years of schooling.
“Unesco encourages the use of the home language for at least the first six years of formal education,” he said.