Despite being rated highly across the region for their contribution to the country’s high literacy rate, Zimbabwean teachers in government institutions are still among the lowly-paid in the region.
Zimbabwean teachers earn around US$400 per month, which ranks them among the lowest paid civil servants in the country.
This is well below the breadline estimate of about US$540 according to the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe.
The US$540 breadline applies to an average family of five.
This is not the case with Zimbabwe’s neighbours
In South Africa, for instance, the average annual salary for a high school teacher is R153,000 (US$12 000).
South African teachers with less than four years experience earn between R60 000 and R198 000 per year, while teachers with five to nine years experience earn between R80 000 and R230 000 per month.
Experienced professionals with more than 10 years of experience earn up to R280 000 per year in South Africa which is nearly US$23 000 annually.
The Botswana government recently embarked on a recruitment of experienced Zimbabwean science teachers by dangling a monthly salary almost triple what they currently earn here.
Botswana is luring them with an entry level pay ranging from P80 112 (about US$9 228) to P95 748 (about US$11 030) per annum.
This translates to between US$769 and US$919 per month excluding allowances. Last year, the Namibian government also did the same, offering Zimbabwean teachers nearly US$1 000 for their services.
David Coltart, former primary and secondary education minister, said the primary aim for government should be to improve teachers’ remuneration.
“Teachers’ salaries are very critical. We have to pay the teachers better salaries and I am glad that the government is aware of this. We need to have attractive salaries for teachers and that should be the principal aim of the government,” said Coltart.
Before independence in 1980, teachers used to be idolised in society because of their status.
But the past three decades have seen the erosion of their status in society.In fact, many of them are wallowing in poverty as the cash-strapped government is struggling to improve their livelihoods.
Teaching used to be a respectable profession where those in it were revered in society because of their status and were the envy of many as their employer was capable of handsomely paying its workers.
Things took a turn for the worst in the early 1990s and since then the profession has become a laughing stock.
Once ranked among the most developed on the continent, the country’s education continues to suffer from a contemporary decline in public funding linked to hyperinflation and economic mismanagement.
Low salaries and poor conditions of service have de-motivated teachers thereby compromising the quality of education.
Since 1999, following the advent of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the strongest opposition to emerge in Zimbabwe since independence in 1980, teachers, who make up the bulk of the civil service, have endured the brunt of government’s non-commitment to offering good salaries.
Besides receiving low income, some teachers have been assaulted and others killed especially in rural areas for being percieved followers of the opposition MDC.
Because many of them cannot make ends meet, those who can escape the situation have skipped the country in search for greener pastures.
During the last decade, Zimbabwe has lost an estimated 45 000 teachers to neighbouring countries because of poor salaries and unfavorable conditions of service.
The most painful part is that teachers in the private sector are making a killing, earning almost twice their counterparts in government who hold the same qualifications.
Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe secretary-general Raymond Majongwe believes that government is not prioritising the issue of teacher salaries and conditions of service.
“If countries like Lesotho and Swaziland that are producing nothing are affording to pay their teachers up to US$1 000, why can’t Zimbabwe pay salaries in excess of US$540,” he said.
Majongwe accused government of having perfected the art of turning a deaf ear to teachers’ plea.
“We talked of none monetary incentives for teachers which include land for us to build houses. The conditions of service for those in rural areas are bad, they are living like goats and no one is recognising them,” added Majongwe.
Negotiations between government and teacher representative unions have yielded very little results and the welfare of teachers continues to deteriorate.
To augment their poor income, teachers have resorted to carrying out extra lessons for which some charge an average of US$25 per subject for high school students per month while most primary school teachers charge an average of US$30 a month for the four examinable subjects.
Reports have indicated that some teachers are concentrating more on students who attend extra lessons at the expense of those who cannot afford them.
This, some educationists believe, has resulted in a poor pass rate that has been experienced in the country over the years.
Many fear that the obtaining situation could result in the country being overtaken by those African states which used to trail Zimbabwe in so far as education standards are concerned.
Zimbabwe leads Africa in having an adult literacy rate of over 90 percent, which compares favourably to Tunisia’s 87 percent.