STEM teacher shortage sets Mat’land back

Pamela Shumba
MZINGWANE High School was, for decades, the flag carrier for post-independence government education in Matabeleland South. One of the leading so-called A-schools, it churned out some of Zimbabwe’s most prominent personalities, earning it reverence and fame. A succession of calamities were to hit the school when economic problems set in, and key teachers left for better paying jobs.

Headmasters came in and went as if through a revolving door. Progressively the school lost its lustre and surrendered its leading status to church schools like Mtshabezi and Matopo High Schools.

Today there are signs of recovery, whose backbone is the school’s unmatched infrastructure and seemingly everlasting goodwill. The school is slowly creeping back into the country’s coveted Top 100 league. But like many schools in Matabeleland South and North provinces, Mzingwane faces a massive challenge that may yet scuttle its recovery and imperil the futures of its pupils: the lack of science teachers.

Upper Sixth pupils returned to school on January 12 to find that their Physics teacher had not returned. It is believed he is now teaching in another SADC country.

His former students should be preparing for their final examinations before university, but it is increasingly likely none of the 24 pupils will score any meaningful points in that subject to enrol for a degree of their choice in the sciences.

Officials at the school told us that they are powerless. They can only inform the District Education office about a vacancy and wait for the Civil Service Commission to deploy.

This week, headmasters in the region will be gripped by understandable trepidation after the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development announced it would, starting this year, pay full tuition and boarding fees for all students in public schools who register for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) subjects in 2016.

This means more STEM teachers, which the Matabeleland region generally does not have.

Professor Jonathan Moyo, the Minister of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development has said that the new programme was meant to encourage students to take a combination of STEM subjects at A-Level in 2016.

“We’re committed to supporting the students in public schools who take a combination of Science subjects for their Lower Six. This is an important opportunity for students waiting for their results. Come 2018 we’ll have more STEM students entering our universities to do STEM subjects.

“We’re doing this after getting feedback from our universities that the number of students doing STEM subjects are very low and there’s quite an outcry about this. More of the students are doing Commercial, arts and humanities,” said Prof Moyo.

He, however, could not be drawn to reveal how much the programme would cost, saying it would depend on how many students register for the STEM subjects.

“We don’t know how much it will cost because it depends on the number of pupils who’re going to register and this also depends on the number of them who’re going to pass their 2015 O-Level examinations’ in STEM subjects with a Grade of C or better and the results aren’t out. We can’t put a dollar amount other than that we’re committed to supporting the students who take STEM subjects for their Lower Six,” said Prof Moyo.

“We’ve a mandate, he added, to develop the human capital requirements of skills of the country and one instrument that we have in the ministry for doing that is Zimdef.

“Zimdef is a contribution of industry. We’re saying we now need to transform. Value addition and beneficiation require STEM skills which are also required by industry. We’ve an obligation as the government and it’s exactly what we’re doing today for tomorrow,” said the minister.

On the teacher crisis in the Matabeleland region, Prof Moyo said the problem was being dealt with separately.

“When people hear a positive development addressing a specific programme, they wish it could address every problem, including their problems. The teacher crisis is being attended to differently. This isn’t a hammer that’s expected to hammer every nail.

“We contribute to the solution of that challenge, which we acknowledge, by having our teachers’ colleges capacitated to have more focus on STEM programmes to prepare the teachers.

“It’s actually about STEM compliant teachers right from Early Childhood Development (ECD) to Form Six. The Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education introduced a new curriculum that started this year and this is a revolutionary curriculum that they’ve introduced. They’ve also come up with a programme for science kits in all schools so that those in Matabeleland North and South who don’t have labs can use the kits,” said Prof Moyo.

Matabeleland North provincial education director, Boithatelo Mnguni, said the province was slowly improving on the recruitment of STEM teachers.

“Deployment of science teachers has improved although a lot still needs to be done in terms of infrastructure. We’ve recruited quite a number of teachers from Hillside Teachers College. Unfortunately they only teach up to O-Level.

“We’re still analysing how many more teachers we need after the recruitment exercise and we’ll have the statistics soon,” said Mnguni.

In Matabeleland South, provincial education director Samukeliso Dlamini said her office was still waiting for information on recruitment, especially of science teachers, from the district offices.

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  • educated fool

    Another mistake. The children of Matabeland will not benefit. It is the same scenario as NUST where the university was built in Matabeleland yet there were no science teaching schools in the region. Schools might register for STEM but without teachers it is a non starter. Prof, the system must be well coordinated; paying tuition and boarding fees in the absence of the relevant personnel is an exercise in futility. My suggestion is to have a pilot programme that will be housed in selected schools with all the necessary infrastructure. After a period of review the the programme can be rolled out to other schools.