MINISTER of Primary and Secondary Education Dr Lazarus Dokora said the general shortage of teachers countrywide emanating from a training gap is worsening the plight of schools in Matabeleland.
In recent weeks there has been an outcry over the deployment of non-Ndebele speaking teachers in the provinces. A Civil Service Commission officer who declined to be named said:
"The province recently received seven names of qualified early childhood development (ECD) teachers from Bondolfi Teachers' College in Masvingo who were referred here for deployment but were referred back because of the language barrier.
"We would have gladly absorbed them but these are the formative years of the young children who need careful handling. It would be impossible for them to be taught by someone who speaks a different language."
Responding to questions during a Zanu-PF Bulawayo provincial education workshop in the city yesterday, Dr Dokora, while acknowledging the shortage said government would not disrupt lessons in schools because there is a shortage of teachers for a certain subject in the country.
The workshop was organised by Zanu-PF secretary for education Dr Sikhanyiso Ndlovu in a bid to tackle different issues affecting the region, including the deployment of non-Ndebele speaking teachers in Matabeleland.
"My ministry is ready to provide non-formal education for young pupils who aspire to be teachers so that they qualify to teach pupils in any part of the country with no problems. But it's a long process that also requires other partners," said Dr Dokora.
Dr Dokora added that the new Constitution acknowledged 16 languages, which must be fed into the education system.
"We must remain focused on our professional mandate. I believe the harmonisation of the new Constitution and the Education Act will take us to a certain level as far as such issues are concerned," he added.
"There are quite a number of concerns that have to be addressed and our focus areas include infrastructural development in schools and the establishment of a new education curriculum."
He said the new education curriculum would be implemented as soon as it was approved by cabinet.
Dr Ndlovu said it was important for the workshop to address all educational concerns, not just for Bulawayo but for the entire country. He emphasised the need for cabinet ministers to go to the people and listen to their concerns for the sake of development in the country.
"Our education is a process and not an event. We should go in accordance with the changing times and focus on improving the education system all the time. The benefit of such platforms is that we get an opportunity to discuss and get advice from the minister as a province on how we can solve the problems arising in the education sector," said Dr Ndlovu.
Zanu-PF Bulawayo provincial chairman, Prof Callistus Ndlovu said the party was concerned about the issue of teacher shortage in the region and called for strategies to solve the issue.
"As the ruling party, we should be cautious and careful about such issues. We have received disturbing reports that some primary schools in Matabeleland South have replaced isiNdebele with Shona. We should not allow this trend to continue because nobody wants their language to be abandoned and suffer from history," said Cde Ndlovu.
"We appreciate that government might have good intentions, which become sabotaged at implementation stage, but we expect such challenges to be addressed so that we cool down emotions and map the way forward."
Prof Ndlovu commended Dr Dokora for attending the meeting, adding that it gives concerned people a chance to get an explanation from a professional point of view.
Party members who attended the workshop concurred that local languages should be respected and taught in schools pointing out that pupils understand their language better than any other.
They also expressed concern over the issue of non-commitment by teachers following the scrapping of incentives. The workshop was also attended by Zanu-PF Politburo member Cde Angeline Masuku, senior party officials and members of the youth wing.
In Matabeleland South province the shortage of teachers is dire all round but worst for the ECD section where young children are being taught by unqualified personnel. This school term, 1,714 teachers were required in the province for ECD, mainstream primary and secondary education but only 574 posts were filled with 1,140 remaining vacant.
Of the required teachers, 879 were needed for ECD but only one qualified ECD teacher was recruited and deployed to Insiza District, leaving the province with a shortfall of 878 teachers.
Bulilima District had the highest number of vacant ECD posts at 186 followed by Matobo with 174 and Insiza 172. Beitbridge requires 166 ECD teachers while 165 are needed in Mangwe and 15 for Gwanda District.