December 7, 2004

Belt-tightening draws criticism from teachers

Zambia's National Union of Teachers (ZNUT) has accused the government of backtracking on a promise to recruit 7,000 unemployed teachers in January next year.
In an interview with the private Post newspaper at the weekend, education minister Andrew Mulenga said although the department would eventually employ all the educators, only 1,000 teachers would be given posts at the start of the 2005 academic year. He explained that the K48 billion (US $10 million) donated by the Netherlands government earlier this year to assist in hiring new teachers would, firstly, be spent on employing educators in rural areas.
Union officials have expressed disappointment over the decision, accusing the government of reneging on an earlier guarantee that all 7,000 teachers would be recruited in January. "This comes as a surprise, especially since the unemployed teachers were looking forward to some kind of relief next year. We were led to believe that, with the assistance of the Dutch government, there would be sufficient room to accommodate all of the teachers," Joel Kamoko, ZNUT director of international affairs, told IRIN. He added that the danger of the government's "gradual" recruitment programme was that educators, having been out of work for so long, would "lose touch with the profession". "We now fear that by the time some of these teachers are employed, they would have lost their feel for the profession and will have to be retrained. This does not augur well for our drive to improve education in this country," Kamoko noted.
Over the past year Zambian authorities have had to stave off a barrage of criticism from civil society organisations claiming that the government had sacrificed short-term development goals to meet International Monetray Fund conditions. A series of belt-tightening measures has brought the aid-dependent country a step closer to reaching the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Completion Point by the end of this year. HIPC status, once granted, is expected to help it reduce its external debt of around US $6.5 billion to a more sustainable level.
But Muweme Muweme of the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection argued that the austerity measures had deepened poverty among the most vulnerable. (IRIN)


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