BULAWAYO - More than 500 public schoolteachers in Zimbabwe's second largest city of Bulawayo and surrounding areas have deserted their jobs over poor pay, leaving pupils unattended since the new school term began last month, ZimOnline has learnt.
Educations officials said finding replacements for absconding teachers was near impossible as the country was facing a shortage of teachers, most of who have fled the country for better paying jobs abroad, as Zimbabwe's eight-year economic crisis hastens an unprecedented brain and skills drain from the country.
"543 teachers have absconded. Finding replacements is very difficult because of the serious staff shortages nationwide, said one official, adding that school authorities have resorted to rotating teachers among several classes "for the children's sake."
Education Minister Aeneas Chigwedere confirmed the exodus of teachers from public schools, but said his department was working to address teachers' grievances.
He said: "We are working on raising teachers' salaries to curb this exodus and something will be done soon. We do not like it either, so very soon things will be better in the education sector. We know the plight of our teachers."
The public education and health sectors - ironically once the best achievements of President Robert Mugabe's government - have been hit hardest by an economic crisis blamed on state mismanagement and marked by inflation of more than 3 700 percent, rising unemployment and poverty, amid shortages of food and nearly every basic survival commodity.
Strikes for better pay and working conditions by teachers, nurses and doctors have become routine in recent years, compromising the quality of service and standards at public schools and hospitals.
In a statement last Friday the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) said the public health sector - the only source of health services for the majority of Zimbabweans - had virtually collapsed due to worsening shortages of nursing staff and a doctors' strike.
Doctors at major hospitals in Harare and Bulawayo began striking late last month, while nurses have been staying away because they cannot afford to pay bus fares to work.
The loss of life and increased morbidity resulting from the absence of health workers at their places of work, whether resulting from inability to pay for transport or from actual strike action, remains the responsibility of the government, the ZADHR said.
Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe secretary general Raymond Majongwe blamed the "government's lack of seriousness to address teachers' grievances" for the exodus of teaching staff that had led standards to fall at public schools.
Zimbabwe has since 1999 been grappling with an agonising political and economic meltdown, critics blame on repression and mismanagement by Mugabe, a charge the veteran leader denies.