When the Teachers are Safe, the Children will Thrive.

“We also worry about the physical security of the teachers. Teachers are held in high regard — especially in the rural areas — where the ZANU-PF has traditionally been relatively strong. Teachers are usually victimized during elections, because people vote in schools and teachers are viewed as sympathetic to the opposition. My worry is that in case of renewed violence, teachers will be targeted and leave again.” [1]

These words from the Honourable Minister of Education, David Coltart, are extremely important, and speak to one of the great problems that face rural Zimbabweans whenever we face elections. Schools, teachers and the pupils face serious risk of being involved in the inevitable political violence and intimidation that accompanies elections. Recent research by the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe [PTUZ] and the Research and Advocacy Unit [RAU] indicates the scale of the problem. See the results of the research below: [http://www.researchandadvocacyunit.org/index.php?option=com_docman&task=doc_download&gid=187&Itemid=90].

In this national survey, slightly more than half of the teachers interviewed had had a direct experience of violence since 2000, and, shockingly, half of these reported that this violence had taken place during working hours at school. This obviously meant that this was witnessed by the pupils. Most schools in the rural areas of Zimbabwe are primary schools, and this means that very young children are being exposed to violence. The implication of this for the long-term development of our children as citizens requires deep thought: if the model they have for politics is one of violence and intimidation, what kinds of citizens will they develop into?

Teacher in Rural Zimbabwean School

Worse than this, perhaps, is the demonstration to the children of intolerance to diversity of opinion. A major goal of any education system must be the encouragement of the learner to think and explore, and there can be no greater disincentive to creativity of thought than the crude attack on teachers for holding views that a political party disagrees with. When teachers in Zimbabwe are fearful of encouraging free thinking, when pupils are taught to disrespect teachers for their personal views, then the whole education enterprise is in serious jeopardy.

The basis of all democracies, no matter how they are organized, must be respect for others, tolerance of difference, and freedom to be critical. Without these, democracy fails, as Amrtya Sen has pointed out, and the corollary is that development will also fail. And these values are inculcated in the home, reinforced in school and church, and then implemented in life. So school is such an important part of the process of developing real democrats.

Therefore, the protection of teachers and learners is critical to national development, and we must urgently take steps to provide this protection. The Minister needs not merely to worry about the future, but ensure that all schools are off-limits to political activities: no more rallies, no more youth militia attacking teachers, no more children seeing their teachers beaten or humiliated. This is the priority for education, for what use are books and pens if the teachers are not there to guide the pupils. Our most precious resource is not materials, but people!



[1] Statement made in an interview with Marian Tupy, a policy analyst at the Cato Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity in Washington DC recently.


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