Legislator under fire over threats against school head

By Lenon Nyamangara

Zanu PF legislator for Uzumba Simbaneuta Mudarikwa has come under fire from teachers’ unions for threatening a headmaster at a school in his constituency whom he blamed for the poor performance of Grade 7 pupils in last year’s public examinations. 

The Zimbabwe Schools Examinations Council (Zimsec) last month revealed that the Grade 7 pass rate for the 2020 examinations, at 37,11 percent, had decreased by 9.79 percent from the previous year largely because of the prolonged closure of schools due to national lockdowns to stop the spread of Covid-19.

A leaked audio recording of Mudarikwa threatening to cause the removal of the Musanhi Primary School headmaster, only identified as Chiutsi, after the institution recorded a three percent pass rate, has been making rounds on social media.

The MP, who has since confirmed that the recording is authentic, blamed Chiutsi for the poor pass rate and threatened to mobilise parents to stop paying school fees.

“The pass rate at your school is not pleasing,” Mudarikwa is heard saying in the recording.

He added: “I will tell the parents to boycott paying fees. You are not doing your best in teaching children, how can you record a 3% pass rate at such a big school?”

Mudarikwa claimed that he would influence the scrapping of bonuses for teachers at the school as punishment. 

In his response to the MP’s rant, Chiutsi said the Grade 7 pupils were ill-prepared for the exams as schools remained closed for most of last year.

“Teachers were ordered not to conduct face to face lessons or extra lessons,” he said. 

“Teachers at Musanhi respected that directive while others defied government orders. Those who defied lockdown regulations had high pass rates.” 

Mudarikwa’s threats have been criticised by unions, who said teachers were not to blame for the poor pass rate as they did not teach last year due to the lockdowns.

Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe’s Mashonaland East provincial co-odinator, Tapiwa Chengeta, said the legislator should be the last person to blame teachers for the chaos in the education sector.

“The comment by the MP is really worrisome to say the least because our expectation is that the legislator is the informed person at community level, who is able to influence decisions both at the grassroots and also at international level,” Chengeta said.

“He is quite aware of the challenges Zimbabwe is going through particularly with regards to Covid-19.

“Last year children were made to go to school for a record 31 days and wrote an examination due to lockdowns. 

“The MP is supposed to understand the situation on the ground and be cognisant of the fact that children have not been learning.”

Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe secretary general, Robson Chere, said the government must take responsibility for the poor pass rates.

“Headmasters are far from blame on the aspect of Covid-19 versus the pass rates, but rather, the government is the one that has to shoulder the blame,” Chere said.

“It is very clear that rural schools performed dismally, but unlike urban schools, students in the rural areas had no access to alternative ways of learning due to how underfunded the rural school system is. 

“The MPs should instead advocate for the widespread use of technology in the rural schools.” 

A fresh spike in Covid-19 cases soon after the festive season resulted in delays to the beginning of the first term with the last set of classes returning to school this week.

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