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Ghetto school’s culture of excellence

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Schools with well-equipped computer laboratories and libraries, whose children wear winter uniforms and play competitive golf, cricket, handball and chess — among other elite games — are not normally associated with high-density areas — the ghetto.

“Parents normally send their kids several kilometres away from their home areas in high-density suburbs in search of schools with such academic and extra-curricular cultures. In Zimbabwe, such facilities are predominant at former Group A schools in the low-density areas,” said Angela Katsuwa, the headmistress of Fungisai Primary School in Unit “A”, Seke, Chitungwiza.

“This is why we have decided to ensure that parents do not send their children several kilometres away from home in search of a modern school culture by bringing that desired culture to their doorstep,” she said.

Fungisai Primary School has become a model of how a school, tucked away in a seemingly insignificant corner of a high-density suburb, can be transformed into a modern-day institution in defiance of the dictates of the colonial legacy that guaranteed different educational cultures between high-density area schools (populated by blacks during the colonial period) and low-density area schools (formerly a preserve of the whites); a legacy that dogs the Zimbabwean education system to this day.

Instead of being content with inheriting a system that does not develop the total human being through a culture that gives the child limited choices in the form of constricted curricula, Katsuwa has defied all odds and introduced facilities and extra-curricular activities that modern- day parents seek, and in the most unlikely place — the ghetto.

“The idea is to produce a well-groomed citizen. This is why we have introduced things such as winter uniform and we are the only primary school in Chitungwiza that allows girls to plait their hair. We want the children to appreciate the value of being smart from an early age.”

The school has a well-equipped and neat computer laboratory and it is connected to the Internet.

“We teach computers from our early childhood development (ECD) grades (popularly known as Grade 0) up to Grade 7.”

“Each class attends computer lessons for 30 minutes every week from ECD to Grade 7 and the kids just love it,” said James Nyandoro, the man who teaches computers at the school.

To boost academic performance, the school has a library that would be the envy of many higher learning institutions and they have introduced merit badges as incentives.

“We write monthly tests and if a child excels in an academic area like English, he or she wears the merit badge for the whole month until the next test. This has seen our Grade 7 pass rate going up,” said the headmistress.

Sporting and extra-curricular activities have made the school a cut above the rest in high-density areas and a must-attend school for children.

“Many parents come to the provincial education offices seeking assistance from us to get places for their kids at this school and we always tell them that enrolment is the prerogative of the head,” said Edward Shumba, deputy provincial director (secondary and non-formal).
The school has introduced golf and the head speaks proudly of this.

“We are the only school in Chitungwiza that plays competitive golf and we won seven prizes at this year’s regional competitions.” Katsuwa said.

“At the provincial competitions, we scooped eight prizes with four winners, three runners-up and one kid in third place,” said an excited Walter Charinda, the school’s sports coordinator and coach.

Said the headmistress: “We play some of the best cricket here. In July, our kids were invited to demonstrate at half-time during the ODIs (one-day internationals) between Zimbabwe and India. I was awarded a gold medal as the best schools’ cricket administrator of the year by ZimCricket.

We have one of the best cricket pitches in schools with natural turf, thanks to ZimCricket.”

Apart from doing well at cricket and golf, the school has a highly-competitive handball team. “Our handball team went to Zambia in October and we did well, considering that the Zambians had bigger and older children in their teams because their Forms 1 and 2 are part of the primary school system,” Katsuwa said.

“We have a very competent chess team. The last tournament we participated in was at the University of Zimbabwe. There were 47 schools and our best player, Donovan Murimi, came second,” the sports coordinator said.

Beaulah Macheche, vice- chairperson of the school development committee, who is a former pupil at the school said Katsuwa had transformed the school into a role model.

“The change is phenomenal with the arrival of Katsuwa. We are proud of both the school and our innovative head. Today, other school development committees visit us to learn how we work with the head as parents to transform the school,” Macheche said.

This was echoed by Shumba, who said, “We refer people to this school to learn how to do things. The school offers a unique illustration of how resources can be effectively utilised. We refer new heads to it so that they can learn. They have created an environment in a high-density area where they expose children to all aspects of our ministry: education, art, sport and culture.”

The community is proud of developments at the school.

“We are happy with both the academic and extra-curricular activities at this school. This school now has the status of a Group A school,” said a parent, Tambudzai Makaza, who is also a lecturer at Seke Teachers’ College in Chitungwiza. Another lecturer at the same college, Marceline Kanda, said the school provides an excellent, practical example for student teachers.

For all her efforts, Katsuwa has been recognised by the government. “I was chosen to be the ambassador for all primary schools to represent Zimbabwe in China for a duration of one-and-half months. We were sharing educational experiences with our Chinese counterparts.

In China I learnt that a head should not overstay at a school as this stifles development. There should come a point where I should leave this school so that someone else comes and rectifies my mistakes. Obviously I can’t see them,” said the head. What makes her tick?

“First, I build team spirit. When I came here, there was resistance from teachers and parents. I first worked on relationships to make myself understood. Now that we share the same vision with teachers and parents, it is smooth sailing all the way,” she said with a happy smile.

“I envision this school as a beacon on top of a mountain with people looking up to us as a role model. We want to make it the light of Chitungwiza. Financial difficulties may hinder some of our projects, we will do our best. Currently, we have embarked on various projects to ease our financial problems.

“We have embarked on a poultry project, we hire out our chairs for weddings and other functions, we have a thriving garden, we hire out our jumping castle and we have a jatropha plantation. We hope to make our own diesel for our kombi in the near future,” said Katsuwa.

With perseverance and relentless focus, the school is set to become the beacon that Katsuwa envisions.

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