Once revered as the best on the continent with graduates coming out of our institutions sought-after commodities the world over, Zimbabwe’s education sector has gone off the rails and something has gone awfully wrong.
From schools demanding that financially weary parents pay through the nose for school fees, extra lesson fees, interview fees, and colleges sprouting like mushrooms all over the place, to the constant threat of strike action from teachers every school term, whither Zimbabwe education?
Senator David Coltart’s ministry is known as the Ministry of Education, Sport, Arts and Culture, but are there still elements of culture and sport in our system today or it is increasingly academic with deteriorating standards in the academic section, what with institutions springing up everywhere?
Where are the culture festivals and sports competitions? Our failure as a country to excel in sports competitions — is it —not in any way linked to this besides the argument that the government has failed to nurture young talent?
How is the government supposed to develop the talent when they are not in charge of the nurseries they attend on a daily basis?
These are critical questions whose answers are probably apparent to not only the government, but also the generality of the population.
The proliferation of private schools has been necessitated by the perceived lack of quality in government-run schools.
There have been reports of some institutions having been presumed unregistered by the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education which we believe is only the tip of the iceberg.
Probably a good number of the so-called private colleges that are offering learning from elementary level to university degree remain unregistered, but who benefits and who loses out? It’s the parents, guardians and the students.
Most likely we are going to end up with the most technically and academically mediocre generation that we have ever had in this country and it all boils down to poor governance and the logjam that presently characterises our politics in particular and our country in general.
Remember the good old days when we had Physical Education or PE lessons at school? Many so-called private schools/colleges do not offer this most essential aspect of education.
Where do they offer it from when they are housed right in the central business district? They just do not have the space. Where are they supposed to conduct all practicals when they operate from along one of the busiest roads in the city?
Most of them conduct lessons up to noon after which you have pupils loitering in the city centre engaging in a variety of unprofitable activities.
These colleges/schools operate in high-rise buildings in the middle of the city and one is tempted to think we are following in the footsteps of most Western countries in creating an obese generation.
The past decade or so has been particularly challenging for this country, from economic stagnation, social and technological brain drain to political upheavals that threaten to spill into the next century.
The youths of this generation have had the most important part of their lives disrupted by leadership wrangles which they are not part of but which will have a huge bearing on who they become when they grow up.
Where do school authorities get the moral authority to ask parents who are looking for Form 1 places for their children to pay $20 per child then invite 200 applications when in the end they are going to admit only 50 or 100 applicants?
There have been reports of parents going to the extent of offering to build classrooms for schools in order to get places for their children in next year’s Grade 1 classes.Where is the responsible minister in all this? Has the Education ministry abandoned its oversight role on private schools?
I think not, and parents and guardians have to budget anything from twenty dollars to a hundred dollars because they are not sure their children will make it and at which school, so the only logical thing is for them to gamble with at least three or four interview sessions and the school heads and administrators smile all the way home.
Recently a school in Mashonaland West denied pupils who wanted to sit for the Cambridge examinations to use the school as a centre when these same pupils had been part of the school for the past six years.
Because they now feel they are being downgraded according to local standards, they deny the poor kids their right to choose which examination to sit for, a practice that have been part of certain schools for years since the government cut off its relationship with the British University.
This writer happened to be in the area of Manicaland a few weeks ago and saw hundreds, if not thousands, of parents and children who had slept at a school in order to write the entrance test for the Form 1 intake.
The school head said they were only going to accommodate two classes, but then why invite so many applicants? His answer: “There was nothing the school could do if people wanted to try their luck.” Methinks it’s pure money-spinning and would doubt the school authorities or boards know the exact amounts involved.
It is reliably understood it is a trend all over the country and these schools are making a killing, through tuck-shop sales and interview fees. “It’s happening everywhere,” says the headmaster.
I was shocked to see the teachers were manning the school tuck shop and they were selling everything from hot chips to drinks and tea, a sure sign they had anticipated the huge turnout contrary to the head’s assertions that these people had not come by application.
The Education ministry is therefore called upon to have a relook at the curriculum, the policy on private schools/colleges registration and the services they are supposed to offer. What are the requirements for one to operate a school/college? Is it a few buildings or blocks and a toilet and bang! you have a school.
Richard Chidza is a Journalism and Mass Communications student