When teaching was a respected profession
It is the start of the school year. Uncle Thabani reminisces on a special teacher to whom he owes much.
My grade 7 teacher, Simplicius Mpondi, conducted his lessons with such infectious enthusiasm that it was unmitigated joy to be part of them. We all affectionately called him Sekuru Mpondi (meaning uncle Mpondi). His character was difficult to fathom. His mood could vacillate from near violent exuberance to breezy cool serenity all in the space of about 36 minutes. As a result, it was impossible not to stay focused and attentive in his class. We all loved him to smithereens.
Much to our collective and unanimous annoyance, he would insist on dishing out homework at 1 o’clock sharp, just as the school bell rang. He would sit on the edge of his his table, close his eyes and seemingly in a trance, loudly mutter something like this:
0,34 multiply by 2.665
45,56 multiply by 432
7.5438 multiply by 9,51
0,432 divided by 37
4 plus 7
0.9865 times 43,590
There would be about 78 of these mathematical problems which we had to complete by first thing the next morning. Little wonder then, that by the time I wrote my Grade 7 exam I was as sharp as a razor. And boy did I cream the exam! I knew I had a distinction only 45 minutes after the exam because Mr Mpondi herded us into an empty classroom and made us revise the exam paper. When the results came, it turned out I had a distinction in English as well. The year was 1983. In those days we only wrote two subjects for our Grade 7 exams. All this happened at Ruvheneko Primary school in Glen Norah, Harare.
During Sekuru Mpondi’s time, teachers were ferociously dedicated to their profession. Of course Sekuru Mpondi was no exception. The teaching profession was well respected and teachers took their rightful place in society with dignity. Sekuru Mpondi himself led a decent life.
Towards the end of second term of my Grade 7 year he bought a brand new Alfa Romeo 2000. He promptly christened it “ndege yapasi” meaning “the land plane.” He drove it like one too and I was never brave enough to catch a ride in it despite numerous invitations to do so. Sekuru Mpondi was not the only teacher who could afford a new car. The teachers’ car park was quite impressive. There were a lot of students who aspired to be teachers and buy new cars like their teachers.
A profession devalued
Sadly, the teaching profession has now been grossly devalued. Our teachers have been reduced to being fourth rate members of society. Those who volunteer to be teachers only do so because they cannot secure any other form of employment. Once they qualify, most teachers will dedicate only a few years at most to the profession before leaving their posts for other endeavours mostly in the informal sector. Their lot does not inspire confidence in their students who regard them as hopeless failures. Some teachers have had to endure the ultimate indignity of borrowing money from their pupils. The more innovative amongst them have privatised their services by offering extra lessons to students whose parents can pay for them. It is safe to assume that, unlike Sekuru Mpondi, few of them can afford a brand new car from their salary.
The devaluation of the teaching profession has correspondingly led to the sharp deterioration in the standard of our education. Most Zimbabweans like to boast about the literacy figures of our citizens. Indeed, once upon a time, our literacy level used to be very high. This was not brought about by the fact that Zimbabweans are endowed with a special kind of brains (as most Zimbabweans mistakenly believe). These figures were brought up by hardworking, dedicated teachers who were in turn decently remunerated.
Cornerstone of economy
It needs no restating that education is crucial and essential to the economic development of our country. We cannot raise our standard of living with a largely uneducated or under-educated population. By paying less than scant attention to the plight of our teachers and the teaching profession we are doing unforgivable and perhaps irreversible damage to the majority of our children and therefore to the future of our country. The detrimental effects of the under-educating of our children will be felt by future generations. Of course, the small minority of our children who are in private schools are not affected by this mayhem. They continue to receive first class education because their teachers are well paid. This is made possible by the exorbitant fees their parents are compelled to pay.
As a matter of utmost urgency, the Government needs to rehabilitate the education system which is in a state of near collapse. This can only be achieved by restoring dignity to the teaching profession. This means re-dedicating some of our resources to education. The Government has a duty to invest in the future of our country. This country is endowed with natural resources. Proceeds from the sale of some of these could be channeled towards the education of our children. Besides, there are a lot of other innovative ways that the Government can pursue to raise funds for our education system. A good education cannot and should not be the preserve of the well-to-do as it is now.
I count myself extremely lucky that throughout my education I was able to benefit from the Sekuru Mpondis of this world. And Sekuru Mpondi taught me one lesson that the Government would do well to heed;
“Kuti unzi munhu hunge uine unhu” (You only qualify to be called a human being if you have love and empathy towards fellow human beings).
To Sekuru Mpondi I have this to say: I salute you and thank you so much.