The beginning of the new primary and secondary education calendar for 2011 is traumatic for the majority of parents/guardians.
Not least because of the low incomes that are earned by many, be they in the civil service or in the informal sector.
There is however a frightening reality that each of these parents/guardians have to confront at the beginning of the year and at every start of a school new term. It is called the School Development Association or alternatively the School Development Committee (SDA/SDC).
In most instances, the SDA is a creature of collaboration between the Ministry of Education, school heads and a group of influential parents.
For the ministry the SDA represents a departure from direct state subsidisation of education, and therefore the latter’s cessation as a basic socio-economic right.
For the school head it is a mechanism of guaranteeing a better salary and possibly better working conditions while for the group of parents it is the equivalent of emotional blackmail.
Either the parent/guardian participates or their child does not get educated “properly” if at all they are still enrolled.
This emotional blackmail entails the payment of numerous school levies assumedly determined via permission of the parent ministry and a general meeting of the SDA. And therein lies the problem.
The SDA has come to represent the ultimate disinvestment by the Zimbabwean state from the education of its citizens.
It combines a profit-driven “sustainability model” with emotional blackmail of hapless parents desperate to get a decent education for their children. It also courts private business in what is termed “private-public smart partnerships” in a manner that remains fundamentally elitist and therefore exclusionary.
Only the chosen few get the relevant scholarships and in most instances these are not the ones with parents that cannot afford the fees.
The long and short of it is that education becomes privatised and unaffordable to the majority poor in the country.
To compound matters even further, the quality of the education is neither thoroughly examined nor holistic because the school is no longer viewed initially as a learning institution but a profit- making enterprise.
A majority of SDAs are characterised by non-transparent tender processes wherein members of the committees are directly or indirectly involved in the supply of goods and services to the school they “develop”.
Because of their vested interests, committee members tend not to want to relinquish office even if their children have left a particular school or alternatively they ensure they retain influence in the SDC in order to maintain their business interests in the procurement of goods and services by the school.
In such circumstances one can be forgiven for arguing that the SDA is no longer so much about allowing the parent to take greater responsibility in the education of their child as opposed to the prioritisation of profit over the right to education.
As it is, the SDA has become complicit in allowing the Ministry of Education and the government in general to do a “Pontius Pilate” on the right of all of Zimbabwe’s young citizens to access quality education as a human right.
Some may argue that given the circumstances there may be no alternative but the truth of the matter is that the alternatives are very apparent.
The state has to provide all necessary funding for state and council-owned schools.
This includes direct subsidisation of the running costs of the schools as well as providing that all primary education should be free of charge.
Those parents that seek to have what they perceive to be a better education for their children should send them to private schools of their choice.
Where IMF and World Bank arguments about the unsustainable nature of such a model abound these should be countered by stating the obvious truth that a country cannot take risks with the education of its people.
And this with an emphasis on the fact that the outsourcing of public education to SDAs or “private-public” partnerships has generally failed on the African continent and we cannot allow ourselves to repeat the mistakes of the past.
The relevant ministry should also stop playing hide-and-seek with the people via the SDAs.
Running the Ministry of Education is not about giving permission to “incentivise” the salaries of teachers or trying to put out fires when examination time comes.
It is about enacting a comprehensive education policy that places at its centre the truth that access to education is a fundamental human right.
To date, the ministry has said no such thing. It keeps trying to issue statements and weak policy pronouncements after the event as it shall certainly be doing in the first weeks of the return to school of Zimbabwe’s young citizens.
Again the sad scenes of young pupils being chased away by unknown touts with the assistance of the ZRP from school gates because they do not have a particular coloured card shall disgrace the front pages of a number of newspapers as well as the country.
And one can only weep when one remembers the maxim of Kwame Nkrumah, “each one, teach one”. At this rate that is unlikely to happen in Zimbabwe.
Takura Zhangazha can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org